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We obtained behavioral data to evaluate two alternative hypotheses about the neural mechanisms of gaze control. The "fixation" hypothesis states that neurons in rostral superior colliculus (SC) enforce fixation of gaze. The "microsaccade" hypothesis states that neurons in rostral SC encode microsaccades rather than fixation per se. Previously reported neuronal activity in monkey SC during the saccade stop-signal task leads to specific, dissociable behavioral predictions of these two hypotheses. When subjects are required to cancel partially-prepared saccades, imbalanced activity spreads across rostral and caudal SC with a reliable temporal profile. The microsaccade hypothesis predicts that this imbalance will lead to elevated microsaccade production biased toward the target location, while the fixation hypothesis predicts reduced microsaccade production. We tested these predictions by analyzing the microsaccades produced by 4 monkeys while they voluntarily canceled partially prepared eye movements in response to explicit stop signals. Consistent with the fixation hypothesis and contradicting the microsaccade hypothesis, we found that each subject produced significantly fewer microsaccades when normal saccades were successfully canceled. The few microsaccades escaping this inhibition tended to be directed toward the target location. We additionally investigated interactions between initiating microsaccades and inhibiting normal saccades. Reaction times were longer when microsaccades immediately preceded target presentation. However, pre-target microsaccade production did not affect stop-signal reaction time or alter the probability of canceling saccades following stop signals. These findings demonstrate that imbalanced activity within SC does not necessarily produce microsaccades and add to evidence that saccade preparation and cancelation are separate processes.
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