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Midbrain Mechanisms of Sensory-Guided Oculomotor Choice

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The goal of this project is to investigate the perceptual andmotor contributions of the superior colliculus (SC) to choice behavior; specifically, we propose to do this in the context of an urgent decision-making task that allows us to dissociate perceptual and motor performance with great, unprecedented effectiveness. Neuroscientists have intensely studied choice behavior with numerous tasks in which a perceptual judgement is made and is followed by a motor report. While highly successful, this approach has limitations. Most notably, various covert factors such as attention, anticipation, motivation or task difficulty can be traded against each other, creating ambiguities that cannot be resolved via standard psychophysical metrics, i.e., reaction time and choice accuracy. Thus, fundamental questions about the timing of choices remain poorly understood. How long does it take to make a perceptual judgement versus executing a motor action to report it? At what point in time is a subject committed to a particular option? When the success rate increases, is it because stimuli are processed more efficiently, or faster, or because more time is dedicated to their analysis? The PIs in this project recently developed an urgent-choice task with which these questions - and the underlying neural mechanisms - can be examined in a direct, unambiguous way. It produces a new psychophysical measure, the tachometric curve, which characterizes a subject's perceptual performance over time independently of motor execution. The PIs have also constructed a computational model that relates neuronal responses to the subjects' behavior with great quantitative detail. In the proposed experiments, neuronal activity in the SC will be recorded from monkeys trained to performthis novel saccadic-choice task. Two problems will be addressed. First, the participation of the SC in perceptual processing, which in contrast to the SC's firmly established role in saccade execution, remains less well characterized. The unique properties of the tachometric curve will be exploited to determine when perceptual information informs the SC activity, and how this correlates with the temporal evolution of the subject's percept during task performance (Aim 1). In addition, subthreshold microstimulation current will be injected into the SC using various spatial and temporal configurations to determine how the artificially evoked activity impacts perceptual and motor performance (Aim2). The second problemis how choice behavior changes when it is driven by multisensory stimuli; that is, by the simultaneous presentation of visual and auditory cues. The SC is known to respond most effectively to such stimulus combinations, but their impact during choice behavior has not been assessed. A multisensory variant of the task will be used to determine whether multisensory integration alters the speed of the perceptual judgements or of the saccadic motor plans (Aim 3). This work will provide critical insight about how perceptual information is dynamically translated into motor output, will characterize how multisensory integration at the neuronal level leads to enhanced behavioral performance, and will determine how the SC participates in these processes..
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