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Lateral connections synchronize population activity in a spiking neural network model of midbrain superior colliculus

Saccades are rapid and ballistic eye-head gaze shifts between points of interest in the visual field. They are crucial for gathering high-resolution visual information. The midbrain superior colliculus (SC) generates saccadic eye-movement commands for downstream oculomotor circuits. It contains an eye-centered, gaze-motor map that relates the location of a Gaussian-shaped neural population to the intended movement vector. The gaze-motor map mediates the spatiotemporal transformation for eye-head orienting gaze shifts to peripheral targets [1]. Electrophysiological recordings have shown that SC neurons exhibit some remarkable activity properties that depend on both their anatomical position and the resulting saccade trajectory [2].

Here, we propose a biologically plausible spiking neural network model that is constrained by the observed firing patterns of real SC neurons for visually evoked saccades. The functional two-dimensional network model reproduces the spike trains of single neurons in recorded SC populations for saccades with different amplitudes and directions.

The network model consists of a 2D grid of neurons, representing the gaze-motor map. The adaptive integrate-and-fire neurons [3] portray the observed site-dependent bursting profiles of individual SC neurons through distinct intrinsic biophysical properties, whereas Mexican-hat shaped lateral connections ensure the observed synchronized population activity by a soft winner-takes-all mechanism.

We argue that our model offers a basis for neuronal algorithms of spatiotemporal transformations and bio-inspired optimal control signal generators.


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This work is funded by the European Commission through FP7 Marie Curie ITN project "NETT" (Grant nr. 289146) (BK) and the Radboud University Nijmegen (AvO).

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Correspondence to Bahadir Kasap.

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This article is published under license to BioMed Central Ltd. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.

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Kasap, B., van Opstal, J. Lateral connections synchronize population activity in a spiking neural network model of midbrain superior colliculus. BMC Neurosci 16 (Suppl 1), P273 (2015).

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