During fixation and between saccades, our eyes undergo diffusive random motion called fixational drift. The role of fixational drift in visual coding and inference has been debated in the past few decades, but the mechanisms that underlie this motion remained unknown. In particular, it has been unclear whether fixational drift arises from peripheral sources, or from central sources within the brain. Here we show that fixational drift is correlated with neural activity, and identify its origin in central neural circuitry within the oculomotor system, upstream to the ocular motoneurons (OMNs). We analyzed a large data set of OMN recordings in the rhesus monkey, alongside precise measurements of eye position, and found that most of the variance of fixational eye drifts must arise upstream of the OMNs. The diffusive statistics of the motion points to the oculomotor integrator, a memory circuit responsible for holding the eyes still between saccades, as a likely source of the motion. Theoretical modeling, constrained by the parameters of the primate oculomotor system, supports this hypothesis by accounting for the amplitude as well as the statistics of the motion. Thus, we propose that fixational ocular drift provides a direct observation of diffusive dynamics in a neural circuit responsible for storage of continuous parameter memory in persistent neural activity. The identification of a mechanistic origin for fixational drift is likely to advance the understanding of its role in visual processing and inference.
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