Mechanisms that allow cortical preparatory activity without inappropriate movement

  1. Timothy R Darlington  Is a corresponding author
  2. Stephen G Lisberger
  1. Duke University School of Medicine, United States


We reveal a novel mechanism that explains how preparatory activity can evolve in motor-related cortical areas without prematurely inducing movement. The smooth eye movement region of the frontal eye fields (FEFSEM) is a critical node in the neural circuit controlling smooth pursuit eye movement. Preparatory activity evolves in the monkey FEFSEM during fixation in parallel with an objective measure of visual-motor gain. We propose that the use of FEFSEM output as a gain signal rather than a movement command allows for preparation to progress in pursuit without causing movement. We also show that preparatory modulation of firing rate in FEFSEM predicts movement, providing evidence against the 'movement-null' space hypothesis as an explanation of how preparatory activity can progress without movement. Finally, there is a partial reorganization of FEFSEM population activity between preparation and movement that would allow for a directionally non-specific component of preparatory visual-motor gain enhancement in pursuit.

Data availability

Source data have been provided for each figure.

Article and author information

Author details

  1. Timothy R Darlington

    Department of Neurobiology, Duke University School of Medicine, Durham, United States
    For correspondence
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0001-5534-7552
  2. Stephen G Lisberger

    Department of Neurobiology, Duke University School of Medicine, Durham, United States
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0001-7859-4361


National Institutes of Health (R01-EY027373)

  • Stephen G Lisberger

National Institutes of Health (F30-EY027684)

  • Timothy R Darlington

The funders had no role in study design, data collection and interpretation, or the decision to submit the work for publication.


Animal experimentation: All procedures received prior approval by Duke's Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (protocol A085-18-04) and were in compliance with the National Institutes of Health's Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals.

Reviewing Editor

  1. Kunlin Wei, Peking University, China

Publication history

  1. Received: August 8, 2019
  2. Accepted: February 20, 2020
  3. Accepted Manuscript published: February 21, 2020 (version 1)
  4. Version of Record published: March 6, 2020 (version 2)


© 2020, Darlington & Lisberger

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License permitting unrestricted use and redistribution provided that the original author and source are credited.


  • 1,917
    Page views
  • 225
  • 6

Article citation count generated by polling the highest count across the following sources: Crossref, PubMed Central, Scopus.

Download links

A two-part list of links to download the article, or parts of the article, in various formats.

Downloads (link to download the article as PDF)

Open citations (links to open the citations from this article in various online reference manager services)

Cite this article (links to download the citations from this article in formats compatible with various reference manager tools)

  1. Timothy R Darlington
  2. Stephen G Lisberger
Mechanisms that allow cortical preparatory activity without inappropriate movement
eLife 9:e50962.

Further reading

    1. Computational and Systems Biology
    2. Neuroscience
    Bo Shen, Kenway Louie, Paul W Glimcher
    Research Article

    Inhibition is crucial for brain function, regulating network activity by balancing excitation and implementing gain control. Recent evidence suggests that beyond simply inhibiting excitatory activity, inhibitory neurons can also shape circuit function through disinhibition. While disinhibitory circuit motifs have been implicated in cognitive processes including learning, attentional selection, and input gating, the role of disinhibition is largely unexplored in the study of decision-making. Here, we show that disinhibition provides a simple circuit motif for fast, dynamic control of network state and function. This dynamic control allows a disinhibition-based decision model to reproduce both value normalization and winner-take-all dynamics, the two central features of neurobiological decision-making captured in separate existing models with distinct circuit motifs. In addition, the disinhibition model exhibits flexible attractor dynamics consistent with different forms of persistent activity seen in working memory. Fitting the model to empirical data shows it captures well both the neurophysiological dynamics of value coding and psychometric choice behavior. Furthermore, the biological basis of disinhibition provides a simple mechanism for flexible top-down control of the network states, enabling the circuit to capture diverse task-dependent neural dynamics. These results suggest a biologically plausible unifying mechanism for decision-making and emphasize the importance of local disinhibition in neural processing.

    1. Medicine
    2. Neuroscience
    Gen Li, Binshi Bo ... Xiaojie Duan
    Research Article

    The available treatments for depression have substantial limitations, including low response rates and substantial lag time before a response is achieved. We applied deep brain stimulation (DBS) to the lateral habenula (LHb) of two rat models of depression (Wistar Kyoto rats and lipopolysaccharide-treated rats) and observed an immediate (within seconds to minutes) alleviation of depressive-like symptoms with a high-response rate. Simultaneous functional MRI (fMRI) conducted on the same sets of depressive rats used in behavioral tests revealed DBS-induced activation of multiple regions in afferent and efferent circuitry of the LHb. The activation levels of brain regions connected to the medial LHb (M-LHb) were correlated with the extent of behavioral improvements. Rats with more medial stimulation sites in the LHb exhibited greater antidepressant effects than those with more lateral stimulation sites. These results indicated that the antidromic activation of the limbic system and orthodromic activation of the monoaminergic systems connected to the M-LHb played a critical role in the rapid antidepressant effects of LHb-DBS. This study indicates that M-LHb-DBS might act as a valuable, rapid-acting antidepressant therapeutic strategy for treatment-resistant depression and demonstrates the potential of using fMRI activation of specific brain regions as biomarkers to predict and evaluate antidepressant efficacy.