Response Variability of Frontal Eye Field Neurons Modulates with Sensory Input and Saccade Preparation but not Visual Search Salience.
Discharge rate modulation of frontal eye field (FEF) neurons has been identified with a representation of visual search salience (physical conspicuity and behavioral relevance) and saccade preparation. We tested whether salience or saccade preparation are evident in the trial-to-trial variability of discharge rate. We quantified response variability via the Fano factor in FEF neurons recorded in monkeys performing efficient and inefficient visual search tasks. Response variability declined following stimulus presentation in most neurons, but despite clear discharge rate modulation, variability did not change with target salience. Instead, we found that response variability was modulated by stimulus luminance and the number of items in the visual field independent of attentional demands. Response variability declined to a minimum before saccade initiation and pre-saccadic response variability was directionally tuned. In addition, response variability was correlated with the response time of memory-guided saccades. These results indicate that the trial-by-trial response variability of FEF neurons reflects saccade preparation and the strength of sensory input, but not visual search salience or attentional allocation.