Short-Term Monocular Deprivation Enhances Physiological Pupillary Oscillations, Neural Plast, (2017), 6724631.

Short-term monocular deprivation alters visual perception in adult humans, increasing the dominance of the deprived eye, for example, as measured with binocular rivalry. This form of plasticity may depend upon the inhibition/excitation balance in the visual cortex. Recent work suggests that cortical excitability is reliably tracked by dilations and constrictions of the pupils of the eyes. Here, we ask whether monocular deprivation produces a systematic change of pupil behavior, as measured at rest, that is independent of the change of visual perception. During periods of minimal sensory stimulation (in the dark) and task requirements (minimizing body and gaze movements), slow pupil oscillations, “hippus,” spontaneously appear. We find that hippus amplitude increases after monocular deprivation, with larger hippus changes in participants showing larger ocular dominance changes (measured by binocular rivalry). This tight correlation suggests that a single latent variable explains both the change of ocular dominance and hippus. We speculate that the neurotransmitter norepinephrine may be implicated in this phenomenon, given its important role in both plasticity and pupil control. On the practical side, our results indicate that measuring the pupil hippus (a simple and short procedure) provides a sensitive index of the change of ocular dominance induced by short-term monocular deprivation, hence a proxy for plasticity.

Renewed Attention on the Pupil Light Reflex, Trends Neurosci.

In a recent study, Ebitz and Moore described how subthreshold electrical microstimulation of the macaque frontal eye fields (FEF) modulates the pupillary light reflex. This elegant study suggests that the influence of the FEF and prefrontal cortex on attentional modulation of cortical visual processing extends to the subcortical circuit that mediates a very basic reflex, the pupillary light reflex.

Pupil response components: attention-light interaction in patients with Parinaud’s syndrome, Sci Rep, 1 (7), 10283.

Covertly shifting attention to a brighter or darker image (without moving one’s eyes) is sufficient to evoke pupillary constriction or dilation, respectively. One possibility is that this attentional modulation involves the pupillary light response pathway, which pivots around the olivary pretectal nucleus. We investigate this possibility by studying patients with Parinaud’s syndrome, where the normal pupillary light response is strongly impaired due to lesions in the pretectal area. Four patients and nine control participants covertly attended (while maintaining fixation at the center of a monitor screen) to one of two disks located in the left and right periphery: one brighter, the other darker than the background. Patients and control subjects behaved alike, showing smaller pupils when attending to the brighter stimulus (despite no eye movements); consistent results were obtained with a dynamic version of the stimulus. We interpret this as proof of principle that attention to bright or dark stimuli can dynamically modulate pupil size in patients with Parinaud’s syndrome, suggesting that attention acts independently of the pretectal circuit for the pupillary light response and indicating that several components of the pupillary response can be isolated – including one related to the focus of covert attention.