Skip to main content

A modeling study on the signal transformation for the microsaccade generation

During visual fixation, stationary images are thought to be input to the visual system. However the actual input images are continuously fluctuating due to miniature eye movements. The miniature eye movements consist of microsaccade, drift, and tremor [1]. To date, while the functional roles of the miniature eye movements in perception, and their kinematic properties are gradually understood [13]; the mechanisms of their generation remain unknown. Here we focused on microsaccade, and constructed a model to explore the mechanisms of microsaccade generation.


Several lines of evidence assure that microsaccades share the same neuronal circuitry with saccades as they follow continuum behavioral profiles called the main sequence [1]. In the saccade related pathway, saccade commands generated in superior colliculus are relayed to motoneurons via burst neurons (BN) that are tonically inhibited by omnipause neurons (OPN) except when saccade (i.e. fixation). Thus, we constructed a model based on the saccade model by Seung et al. [5] as it described explicitly excitatory/inhibitory BNs, the integrator network, and the oculomotor plant. We added OPN as a gain element, and controlled BNs activities to replicate the inter-microsaccade interval [4] and direction of microsaccade [6].

In simulation, our model successfully reproduced both horizontal and vertical microsaccades which were characterized by “square-jerk”or “single sided”. Our model also reproduced the main sequence characterized by the linear relationship between microsaccade amplitudes and peak velocities that is observed in the behavioral experiment (e.g. [8] ). Our result suggested that the tonic inhibition from OPN plays a key role in the generation of microsaccades in depressing the activity of BNs that is the source of saccade/microsaccade deriving from superior colliculus. Nakao et al. reported that the BNs fired spikes at a low rate during fixation where the inhibition from the OPN exists [7], and those activities were replicated in our model as decreasing of firing rate of BNs. We conclude that those low rate spikes of BNs might be key activities to drive microsaccades. Figure 1

Figure 1
figure 1

Simulation results. A: Fixating eye movement, B: Square-jerk wave (left) and Single sided (right) microsaccade, C: Main sequence. Solid and dashed line in A and B indicate horizontal or vertical eye movement. In C, solid line is linear regression line; r and p are multiple correlation coefficients and its significance.


  1. Martinez-Conde S, Macknik SL, Hubel DH: The role of fixational eye movements in visual perception. Nat Rev Neruosci. 2004, 5: 229-240. 10.1038/nrn1348.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  2. Engbert R, Kliegl R: Microsaccades keep the eyes' balance during fixation. Psychol Sci. 2004, 15: 431-436. 10.1111/j.0956-7976.2004.00697.x.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  3. Rucci M, Iovin R, Poletti M, Santini F: Miniature eye movements enhance fine spatial detail. Nature. 2007, 447: 851-854. 10.1038/nature05866.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  4. Otero-Millan J, Troncoso XG, Macknik SL, Serrano-Pedraza I, Martinez-Conde S: Saccades and microsaccades during visual fixation, exploration, and search: foundations for a common saccadic generator. J Vis. 2009, 8 (14): 21-10.1167/8.14.21.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Seung HS, Lee DD, Reis BY, Tank DW: Stability of the memory of eye position in a recurrent network of conductance-based model neurons. Neuron. 2000, 26: 259-271. 10.1016/S0896-6273(00)81155-1.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  6. Krauskopf J, Cornsweet TN, Riggs LA: Analysis of eye movements during monocular and binocular fixation. J.Opt.Soc.Am. 1960, 50: 572-578. 10.1364/JOSA.50.000572.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  7. Nakao S, Shiraishi Y, Oda H, Inagaki M: Direct inhibitory projection of pontine omnipause neuron to burst neurons in the Forel's field H controlling vertical eye movement-related motoneurons in the cat. Exp Brain Res. 1988, 70: 632-636. 10.1007/BF00247612.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

Download references


This research was supported by "The Next Generation Integrated Simulation of Living Matter" part of the Development and Use of the Next-Generation Supercomputer Project of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports and Technology.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Keiichiro Inagaki.

Rights and permissions

Open Access This article is published under license to BioMed Central Ltd. This is an Open Access article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Inagaki, K., Hirata, Y. & Usui, S. A modeling study on the signal transformation for the microsaccade generation. BMC Neurosci 11 (Suppl 1), P115 (2010).

Download citation

  • Published:

  • DOI:


  • Firing Rate
  • Superior Colliculus
  • Main Sequence
  • Rate Spike
  • Related Pathway