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Lambert, Francois M.; Combes, Denis; Simmers, John; Straka, Hans ORCID: 0000-0003-2874-0441 (2012): Gaze Stabilization by Efference Copy Signaling without Sensory Feedback during Vertebrate Locomotion. In: Current Biology, Vol. 22, No. 18: pp. 1649-1658
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Background: Self-generated body movements require compensatory eye and head adjustments in order to avoid perturbation of visual information processing. Retinal image stabilization is traditionally ascribed to the transformation of visuovestibular signals into appropriate extraocular motor commands for compensatory ocular movements. During locomotion, however, intrinsic "efference copies" of the motor commands deriving from spinal central pattern generator (CPG) activity potentially offer a reliable and rapid mechanism for image stabilization, in addition to the slower contribution of movement-encoding sensory inputs. Results: Using a variety of in vitro and in vivo preparations of Xenopus tadpoles, we demonstrate that spinal locomotor CPG-derived efference copies do indeed produce effective conjugate eye movements that counteract oppositely directed horizontal head displacements during undulatory tail-based locomotion. The efference copy transmission, by which the extraocular motor system becomes functionally appropriated to the spinal cord, is mediated by direct ascending pathways. Although the impact of the CPG feedforward commands matches the spatiotemporal specificity of classical vestibulo-ocular responses, the two fundamentally different signals do not contribute collectively to image stabilization during swimming. Instead, when the CPG is active, horizontal vestibulo-ocular reflexes resulting from head movements are selectively suppressed. Conclusions: These results therefore challenge our traditional understanding of how animals offset the disruptive effects of propulsive body movements on visual processing. Specifically, our finding that predictive efference copies of intrinsic, rhythmic neural signals produced by the locomotory CPG supersede, rather than supplement, reactive vestibulo-ocular reflexes in order to drive image-stabilizing eye adjustments during larval frog swimming, represents a hitherto unreported mechanism for vertebrate ocular motor control.