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Investigations of the pathogenesis of acquired pendular nystagmus

Lea Averbuch-Heller, Ari Z. Zivotofsky, Vallabh E. Das, Alfred O. DiScenna, R. John Leigh
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/brain/118.2.369 369-378 First published online: 1 April 1995


We investigated the pathogenesis of acquired pendular nystagmus (APN) in six patients, three of whom had multiple sclerosis. First, we tested the hypothesis that the oscillations of APN are due to a delay in visual feedback secondary, for example, to demyelination of the optic nerves. We manipulated the latency to onset of visually guided eye movements using an electronic technique that induces sinusoidal oscillations in normal subjects. This manipulation did not change the characteristics of the APN, but did superimpose lower-frequency oscillations similar to those induced in normal subjects. These results are consistent with current models for smooth (non-saccadic) eye movements, which predict that prolongation of visual feedback could not account for the high-frequency oscillations that often characterize APN. Secondly, we attempted to determine whether an increase in the gain of the visually-enhanced vestibulo-ocular reflex (VOR), produced by viewing a near target, was accompanied by a commensurate increase in the amplitude of APN. Increases in horizontal or vertical VOR gain during near viewing occurred in four patients, but only two of them showed a parallel increase in APN amplitude. On the other hand, APN amplitude decreased during viewing of the near target in the two patients who showed no change in VOR gain. Taken together, these data suggest that neither delayed visual feedback nor a disorder of central vestibular mechanisms is primarily responsible for APN. More likely, these ocular oscillations are produced by abnormalities of internal feedback circuits, such as the reciprocal connections between brainstem nuclei and cerebellum.

  • nystagmus
  • vision
  • feedback
  • oscillations
  • multiple sclerosis