Online Lecture by Angie Michaiel

Dynamics of gaze control during prey capture in freely moving mice

Many studies of visual processing are conducted in unnatural conditions, such as head- and gaze-fixation. As this radically limits natural exploration of the visual environment, there is much less known about how animals actively use their sensory systems to acquire visual information in natural, goal-directed contexts. Recently, prey capture has emerged as an ethologically relevant behavior that mice perform without training, and that engages vision for accurate orienting and pursuit. However, it is unclear how mice target their gaze during such natural behaviors, particularly since, in contrast to many predatory species, mice have a narrow binocular field and lack foveate vision that would entail fixing their gaze on a specific point in the visual field. Here we measured head and bilateral eye movements in freely moving mice performing prey capture. We find that the majority of eye movements are compensatory for head movements, thereby acting to stabilize the visual scene. During head turns, however, these periods of stabilization are interspersed with non-compensatory saccades that abruptly shift gaze position. Analysis of eye movements relative to the cricket position shows that the saccades do not preferentially select a specific point in the visual scene. Rather, orienting movements are driven by the head, with the eyes following in coordination to sequentially stabilize and recenter the gaze. These findings help relate eye movements in the mouse to other species, and provide a foundation for studying active vision during ethological behaviors in the mouse.