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Leszczynski, Marcin; Chaieb, Leila; Staudigl, Tobias; Enkirch, Simon Jonas; Fell, Juergen and Schroeder, Charles E. (1. September 2021): Neural activity in the human anterior thalamus during natural vision. In: Scientific Reports, Vol. 11, 17480 [PDF, 5MB]


In natural vision humans and other primates explore environment by active sensing, using saccadic eye movements to relocate the fovea and sample different bits of information multiple times per second. Saccades induce a phase reset of ongoing neuronal oscillations in primary and higher-order visual cortices and in the medial temporal lobe. As a result, neuron ensembles are shifted to a common state at the time visual input propagates through the system (i.e., just after fixation). The extent of the brain’s circuitry that is modulated by saccades is not yet known. Here, we evaluate the possibility that saccadic phase reset impacts the anterior nuclei of the thalamus (ANT). Using recordings in the human thalamus of three surgical patients during natural vision, we found that saccades and visual stimulus onset both modulate neural activity, but with distinct field potential morphologies. Specifically, we found that fixation-locked field potentials had a component that preceded saccade onset. It was followed by an early negativity around 50 ms after fixation onset which is significantly faster than any response to visual stimulus presentation. The timing of these events suggests that the ANT is predictively modulated before the saccadic eye movement. We also found oscillatory phase concentration, peaking at 3–4 Hz, coincident with suppression of Broadband High-frequency Activity (BHA; 80–180 Hz), both locked to fixation onset supporting the idea that neural oscillations in these nuclei are reorganized to a low excitability state right after fixation onset. These findings show that during real-world natural visual exploration neural dynamics in the human ANT is influenced by visual and oculomotor events, which supports the idea that ANT, apart from their contribution to episodic memory, also play a role in natural vision.

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