Our ability to prepare an action in advance allows us to respond to our environment quickly, accurately, and flexibly. Here, we used event-related functional MRI to measure human brain activity while subjects maintained an active state of preparedness. At the beginning of each trial, subjects were instructed to prepare a pro- or antisaccade to a visual cue that was continually present during a long and variable preparation interval, but to defer the saccade's execution until a go signal. The deferred saccade task eliminated the mnemonic component inherent in memory-guided saccade tasks and placed the emphasis entirely on advance motor preparation. During the delay while subjects were in an active state of motor preparedness, the blood oxygen level- dependent signal in the frontal cortex showed 1) a sustained elevation throughout the preparation interval; 2) a linear increase with increasing delay length; 3) a bias for contra- rather than ipsiversive movements; 4) greater activity when the specific metrics of the planned saccade were known compared with when they were not; and 5) increased activity when the saccade was directed toward an internal versus an external representation (i.e., anticue location). These findings support the hypothesis that both the human frontal and parietal cortices are involved in the spatial selection and preparation of saccades.
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