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Smooth Pursuit Saccade Amplitude Modulation During Exposure to MicrogravityRussian investigators have reported changes in pursuit tracking of a vertically moving point stimulus during space flight. Early in microgravity, changes were manifested by decreased eye movement amplitude (undershooting) and the appearance of correction saccades. As the flight progressed, pursuit of the moving point stimulus deteriorated while associated saccadic movements were unchanged. Immediately postflight there was an improved execution of active head movements indicating that the deficiencies in pursuit function noted in microgravity may be of central origin. In contrast, tests of two cosmonauts showed that horizontal and vertical smooth pursuit were unchanged inflight. However, results of corresponding saccadic tasks showed a tendency toward the overshooting of a horizontal target early inflight with high accuracy developing later inflight, accompanied by an increased saccade velocity and a trend toward decreased saccade latency. Based on these equivocal results, we have further investigated the effects of space flight on the smooth pursuit mechanism during and after short duration flight, and postflight on returning MIR crewmembers. Sinusoidal target movement was presented horizontally at frequencies of 0.33 and 1.0 Hz. Subjects were asked to perform two trials for each stimulus combination: (1) moving eyes-only (EO) and (2) moving eyes and head (EH) with the target motion. Peak amplitude was 30 deg for 0.33 Hz trials and 15 deg for the 1.0 Hz trials. The relationship between saccade amplitude and peak velocity were plotted as a main sequence for each phase of flight, and linear regression analysis allowed us to determine the slope of each main sequence plot. The linear slopes were then combined for each flight phase for each individual subject. The main sequence for both EO and EH trials at both the 0.33 and 1.0 Hz frequencies during flight for the short duration flyers showed a reduction in saccade velocity and amplitude when compared to the preflight main sequence . This difference in the regression slopes between flight phase, head/eye condition (EO or EH), and pursuit target frequency was observed across all subjects (statistically significant at the p<0.02, df= 2). It is interesting to note that postflight for the short duration flyers there was an immediate recovery to the preflight main sequence across all trials. There were no significant differences observed between the preflight slopes for either head movement condition (EO vs. EH). When the immediate postflight (R+O) regression slopes were compared with the preflight slopes, there was a tendency (not significant) for both saccade amplitude and peak velocity to increase during the postflight testing. This tendency had vanished by R+ 1. Of particular interest was the redistribution of saccades during the latter stages of the flight and immediately postflight in the EO condition. At the 1.0 Hz frequency the saccades tended to be clustered near the lowest target velocity. It was also interesting to note that gaze performance (eye in skull + head in space) was consistently better during the EH condition; a finding also observed by our Russian colleagues. As the results of the long duration flight become available we expect that they will not only show that postflight effects will be similar to those observed during the short duration flights, but will also last for a greater period of time following flight. It is not clear what mechanism is responsible for the decreased peak saccadic velocity during flight unless the change is related to the control of retinal slip. For example, it is possible that saccades will tend to initially undershoot their targets by a small percentage and these saccades are then followed, if vision is available, by a small augmenting corrective saccade. It has been postulated that the functional significance of this undershooting tendency is to maintain the spatial representation of the target on the same side of the fovea (as opposedo racing across the fovea) and hence in the same cerebral hemisphere that initiated the primary saccade thus minimizing delays caused by an intra-hemispheric transfer of information . One could also speculate that with saccade velocities greater than normal, additional corrective saccades would be required to bring the target back on the fovea. A less plausible explanation of our findings could be fatigue. Yet it seems unlikely that our subjects would show lower velocities on all inflight test days while showing increased saccade velocities immediately following space flight where fatigue is usually the greatest. Finally, the redistribution effect noted late inflight is likely caused by adaptive changes. Overall, corrective saccades appeared to be used in maintaining gaze on target; reducing retinal slip and assisting space travelers in maintaining clear vision throughout the different phases of the space flight.
Document ID
Document Type
Conference Paper
Reschke, M. F.
(NASA Johnson Space Center Houston, TX, United States)
Kozlovskaya, I. B.
(Institute of Biomedical Problems Moscow, Russian Federation)
Sayenko, D. G.
(Institute of Biomedical Problems Moscow, Russian Federation)
Sayenko, I.
(Institute of Biomedical Problems Moscow, Russian Federation)
Somers, J. T.
(Wyle Life Sciences, Inc. Houston, TX, United States)
Paloski, W. H.
(Wyle Life Sciences, Inc. Houston, TX, United States)
Date Acquired
August 25, 2013
Publication Date
June 10, 2002
Subject Category
Aerospace Medicine
Report/Patent Number
Meeting Information
Satellite International Symposium: Gravity Mechanisms in Sensorimotor System(Moscow, Russia)
Distribution Limits
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