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Dynamics Of Primate Oculomotor Plant Revealed By Effects Of Abducens Microstimulation

Sean R. Anderson, John Porrill, Sokratis Sklavos, Neeraj J. Gandhi, David L. Sparks, Paul Dean

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Despite their importance for deciphering oculomotor commands, the mechanics of the extraocular muscles and orbital tissues (oculomotor plant) are poorly understood. In particular, the significance of plant nonlinearities is uncertain. Here primate plant dynamics were investigated by measuring the eye movements produced by stimulating the abducens nucleus with brief pulse trains of varying frequency. Statistical analysis of these movements indicated that the effects of stimulation lasted about 40 ms after the final pulse, after which the eye returned passively toward its position before stimulation. Behavior during the passive phase could be approximated by a linear plant model, corresponding to Voigt elements in series, with properties independent of initial eye position. In contrast, behavior during the stimulation phase revealed a sigmoidal relation between stimulation frequency and estimated steady-state tetanic tension, together with a frequency-dependent rate of tension increase, that appeared very similar to the nonlinearities previously found for isometric-force production in primate lateral rectus muscle. These results suggest that the dynamics of the oculomotor plant have an approximately linear component related to steady-state viscoelasticity and a nonlinear component related to changes in muscle activation. The latter may in part account for the nonlinear relations observed between eye-movement parameters and single-unit firing patterns in the abducens nucleus. These findings point to the importance of recruitment as a simplifying factor for motor control with nonlinear plants.