The implication of the caudal part of the fastigial nucleus (cFN) in the control of saccadic shifts of the visual axis is now well established. In contrast a possible involvement of the rostral part of the fastigial nuceus (rFN) remains unknown. In the current study we investigated in the head-unrestrained cat the contribution of the rFN to the control of visually triggered saccadic gaze shifts by measuring the deficits after unilateral muscimol injection in the rFN. A typical gaze dysmetria was observed: gaze saccades directed toward the inactivated side were hypermetric, whereas those with an opposite direction were hypometric. For both movement directions, gaze dysmetria was proportional to target retinal eccentricity and could be described as a modified gain in the translation of visual signals into eye and head motor commands. Correction saccades were triggered when the target remained visible and reduced the gaze fixation error to 2.7 +/- 1.3 degrees (mean +/- SD) on average. The hypermetria of ipsiversive gaze shifts resulted predominantly from a hypermetric response of the eyes, whereas the hypometria of contraversive gaze shifts resulted from hypometric responses of both eye and head. However, even in this latter case, the eye saccade was more affected than the motion of the head. As a consequence, for both directions of gaze shift the relative contributions of the eye and head to the overall gaze displacement were altered by muscimol injection. This was revealed by a decreased contribution of the head for ipsiversive gaze shifts and an increased head contribution for contraversive movements. These modifications were associated with slight changes in the delay between eye and head movement onsets. Inactivation of the rFN also affected the initiation of eye and head movements. Indeed, the latency of ipsiversive gaze and head movements decreased to 88 and 92% of normal, respectively, whereas the latency of contraversive ones increased to 149 and 145%. The deficits induced by rFN inactivation were then compared with those obtained after muscimol injection in the cFN of the same animals. Several deficits differed according to the site of injection within the fastigial nucleus (tonic orbital eye rotation, hypermetria of ipsiversive gaze shifts and fixation offset, relationship between dysmetria and latency of contraversive gaze shifts, postural deficit). In conclusion, the present study demonstrates that the rFN is involved in the initiation and the control of combined eye-head gaze shifts. In addition our findings support a functional distinction between the rFN and cFN for the control of orienting gaze shifts. This distinction is discussed with respect to the segregated fastigiofugal projections arising from the rFN and cFN.