Lance M. Optican, Ph.D.

Senior Investigator

Neural Modeling Section


Building 49, Room 2A50
49 Convent Drive
Bethesda, MD 20892


Research Topics

Control of rapid gaze movements involves many parts of the brain, including cerebral, cerebellar, midbrain, basal ganglia and brain stem areas. The successful coordination of these areas is required for correct behavior under normal and adaptive conditions. When this coordination fails, clinical eye movement disorders develop. Our group builds neuromimetic models that function like the brain, from the biophysics of individual neurons to the networks across multiple brain areas. We also model the properties of passive and active extraocular eye muscles, as these are central to some disorders, such as strabismus (the misalignment of the two eyes). Our goal is to be able to understand the neuronal and muscular mechanisms underlying clinical eye movement disorders well enough to predict the effects of surgical and pharmaceutical therapies. Finally, our lab also looks at perception and action, relating eye movements and what we perceive in the world.


Dr. Optican received a B.Sc. degree from the California Institute of Technology in 1972, and a Ph.D. degree in Biomedical Engineering from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in 1978. His thesis work with Professor David A. Robinson was on the adaptive control of saccadic eye movements by the cerebellum. He then did a post-doctoral fellowship at NIMH with Dr. F. A. Miles, during which he studied visual influences on adaptive control of saccades. In 1979 Dr. Optican joined the NEI, and in 1985 he became chief of the Section on Neural Modeling in the Laboratory of Sensorimotor Research. His laboratory focuses on experimental and theoretical studies of sensory and motor aspects of normal, adaptive and impaired rapid eye and head movements.

Selected Publications

  1. Pretegiani E, Rosini F, Rocchi R, Ginanneschi F, Vinciguerra C, Optican LM, Rufa A. GABAAergic dysfunction in the olivary-cerebellar-brainstem network may cause eye oscillations and body tremor. Clin Neurophysiol. 2017;128(3):408-410.

  2. Daye PM, Optican LM, Blohm G, Lefèvre P. Hierarchical control of two-dimensional gaze saccades. J Comput Neurosci. 2014;36(3):355-82.

  3. Ramat S, Leigh RJ, Zee DS, Optican LM. What clinical disorders tell us about the neural control of saccadic eye movements. Brain. 2007;130(Pt 1):10-35.

  4. Hong S, Leigh RJ, Zee DS, Optican LM. Inferior olive hypertrophy and cerebellar learning are both needed to explain ocular oscillations in oculopalatal tremor. Prog Brain Res. 2008;171:219-26.

  5. Quaia C, Ying HS, Optican LM. The viscoelastic properties of passive eye muscle in primates. III: force elicited by natural elongations. PLoS One. 2010;5(3):e9595.

This page was last updated on August 16th, 2017