Selective modulation of the pupil light reflex by microstimulation of prefrontal cortex

R. Becket Ebitz, Tirin Moore

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

49 Scopus citations


The prefrontal cortex (PFC) is thought to flexibly regulate sensorimotor responses, perhaps through modulating activity in other circuits. However, the scope of that control remains unknown: it remains unclear whether the PFC can modulate basic reflexes. One canonical example of a central reflex is the pupil light reflex (PLR): the automatic constriction of the pupil in response to luminance increments. Unlike pupil size, which depends on the interaction of multiple physiological and neuromodulatory influences, the PLR reflects the action of a simple brainstem circuit. However, emerging behavioral evidence suggests that the PLR may be modulated by cognitive processes. Although the neural basis of these modulations remains unknown, one possible source is the PFC, particularly the frontal eye field (FEF), an area of the PFC implicated in the control of attention. We show that microstimulation of the rhesus macaque FEF alters the magnitude of the PLR in a spatially specific manner. FEF microstimulation enhanced the PLR to probes presented within the stimulated visual field, but suppressed the PLR to probes at nonoverlapping locations. The spatial specificity of this effect parallels the effect of FEF stimulation on attention and suggests that FEF is capable of modulating visuomotor transformations performed at a lower level than was previously known. These results provide evidence of the selective regulation of a basic brainstem reflex by the PFC.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)5008-5018
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number19
StatePublished - May 10 2017
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the National Eye Institute-National Institutes of Health (Grant R01-EY014924 and a NEI T32 Postdoctoral Training Grant) and the National Institute of Mental Health-National Institutes of Health (National Research Service Award F32-MH102049 to R.B.E.). We thank Marc Zirnsak and Nick Steinmetz for technical help, Matt Panicello and two anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on the manuscript, and Shellie Hyde and Doug Aldrich for assistance with animal care and husbandry.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 the authors.


  • Frontal eye field
  • Prefrontal cortex
  • Pupil constriction
  • Pupil light reflex
  • Reflex control
  • Subsumption architecture


Dive into the research topics of 'Selective modulation of the pupil light reflex by microstimulation of prefrontal cortex'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this