Coordinated movements of the eye, head, and body are used to redirect the axis of gaze between objects of interest. However, previous studies of eye-head gaze shifts in head-unrestrained primates generally assumed the contribution of body movement to be negligible. Here we characterized eye-head-body coordination during horizontal gaze shifts made by trained rhesus monkeys to visual targets while they sat upright in a standard primate chair and assumed a more natural sitting posture in a custom-designed chair. In both postures, gaze shifts were characterized by the sequential onset of eye, head, and body movements, which could be described by predictable relationships. Body motion made a small but significant contribution to gaze shifts that were ≥40° in amplitude. Furthermore, as gaze shift amplitude increased (40-120°), body contribution and velocity increased systematically. In contrast, peak eye and head velocities plateaued at velocities of ∼250-300°/s, and the rotation of the eye-in-orbit and head-on-body remained well within the physical limits of ocular and neck motility during large gaze shifts, saturating at ∼35 and 60°, respectively. Gaze shifts initiated with the eye more contralateral in the orbit were accompanied by smaller body as well as head movement amplitudes and velocities were greater when monkeys were seated in the more natural body posture. Taken together, our findings show that body movement makes a predictable contribution to gaze shifts that is systematically influenced by factors such as orbital position and posture. We conclude that body movements are part of a coordinated series of motor events that are used to voluntarily reorient gaze and that these movements can be significant even in a typical laboratory setting. Our results emphasize the need for caution in the interpretation of data from neurophysiological studies of the control of saccadic eye movements and/or eye-head gaze shifts because single neurons can code motor commands to move the body as well as the head and eyes.
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