When viewing a stationary object, we unconsciously make small, involuntary eye movements or ‘microsaccades’. If displacements of the retinal image are prevented, the image quickly fades from perception. To understand how microsaccades sustain perception, we studied their relationship to the firing of cells in primary visual cortex (V1). We tracked eye movements and recorded from V1 cells as macaque monkeys fixated. When an optimally oriented line was centered over a cell's receptive field, activity increased after microsaccades. Moreover, microsaccades were better correlated with bursts of spikes than with either single spikes or instantaneous firing rate. These findings may help explain maintenance of perception during normal visual fixation.
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We thank Gail Robertson, David Freeman, Michael Lafratta and Frederic Russo for technical assistance and Margaret Livingstone, Clay Reid, Richard Born and Max Snodderly for reading the manuscript and making comments. We also thank Murray Sherman, Jonathan Victor, John Maunsell and Guy Orban for their advice on the analysis and design of the project. This work was supported by research (to D.H.H.) and training grants (to S.L.M.) from the National Eye Institute. S.M.-C. is a fellow from the MEC-FPI program (Spain).
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Martinez-Conde, S., Macknik, S. & Hubel, D. Microsaccadic eye movements and firing of single cells in the striate cortex of macaque monkeys. Nat Neurosci 3, 251–258 (2000). https://doi.org/10.1038/72961
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