The orienting response evoked by the appearance of a salient stimulus is modulated by arousal; however, neural underpinnings for the interplay between orienting and arousal are not well understood. The superior colliculus (SC), causally involved in multiple components of the orienting response including gaze and attention shifts, receives not only multisensory and cognitive inputs but also arousal-regulated inputs from various cortical and subcortical structures. To investigate the impact of moment-by-moment fluctuations in arousal on orienting saccade responses, we used microstimulation of the monkey SC to trigger saccade responses, and we used pupil size and velocity to index the level of arousal at stimulation onset because these measures correlate with changes in brain states and locus coeruleus activity. Saccades induced by SC microstimulation correlated with prestimulation pupil velocity, with higher pupil velocities on trials without evoked saccades than with evoked saccades. In contrast, prestimulation absolute pupil size did not correlate with saccade behavior. Moreover, pupil velocity correlated with evoked saccade latency and metrics. Together, our results demonstrated that small fluctuations in arousal, indexed by pupil velocity, can modulate the saccade response evoked by SC microstimulation in awake behaving monkeys.

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