We investigated the composition of preparatory activity of frontal eye field (FEF) neurons in monkeys performing a pursuit target selection task. In response to the orthogonal motion of a large and a small reward target, monkeys initiated pursuit biased toward the direction of large reward target motion. FEF neurons exhibited robust preparatory activity preceding movement initiation in this task. Preparatory activity consisted of two components, ramping activity that was constant across target selection conditions, and a flat offset in firing rates that signaled the target selection condition. Ramping activity accounted for 50% of the variance in the preparatory activity and was linked most strongly, on a trial-by-trial basis, to pursuit eye movement latency rather than to its direction or gain. The offset in firing rates that discriminated target selection conditions accounted for 25% of the variance in the preparatory activity and was commensurate with a winner-take-all representation, signaling the direction of large reward target motion rather than a representation that matched the parameters of the upcoming movement. These offer new insights into the role that the frontal eye fields play in target selection and pursuit control. They show that preparatory activity in the FEF signals more strongly when to move rather than where or how to move and suggest that structures outside the FEF augment its contributions to the target selection process. NEW & NOTEWORTHY We used the smooth eye movement pursuit system to link between patterns of preparatory activity in the frontal eye fields and movement during a target selection task. The dominant pattern was a ramping signal that did not discriminate between selection conditions and was linked, on trial-by-trial basis, to movement latency. A weaker pattern was composed of a constant signal that discriminated between selection conditions but was only weakly linked to the movement parameters.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
M. Joshua received support from the Human Frontiers Science Program and the National Institute for Psychobiology in Israel. This study also received funding from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (to R. T. Raghavan and M. Joshua).
© 2017 the American Physiological Society.
- Preparatory activity
- Smooth pursuit
- Target selection