Rapid and persistent adaptability of human oculomotor control in response to simulated central vision loss

Date Published:

2013 Sep 09


The central region of the human retina, the fovea, provides high-acuity vision. The oculomotor system continually brings targets of interest into the fovea via ballistic eye movements (saccades). Thus, the fovea serves both as the locus for fixations and as the oculomotor reference for saccades. This highly automated process of foveation is functionally critical to vision and is observed from infancy. How would the oculomotor system adjust to a loss of foveal vision (central scotoma)? Clinical observations of patients with central vision loss suggest a lengthy adjustment period, but the nature and dynamics of this adjustment remain unclear. Here, we demonstrate that the oculomotor system can spontaneously and rapidly adopt a peripheral locus for fixation and can rereference saccades to this locus in normally sighted individuals whose central vision is blocked by an artificial scotoma. Once developed, the fixation locus is retained over weeks in the absence of the simulated scotoma. Our data reveal a basic guiding principle of the oculomotor system that prefers control simplicity over optimality. We demonstrate the importance of a visible scotoma on the speed of the adjustment and suggest a possible rehabilitation regimen for patients with central vision loss.

Last updated on 12/08/2018