The mechanisms by which the human brain controls eye movements are reasonably well understood, but those for the head less so. Here, we show that the mechanisms for keeping the head aimed at a stationary target follow strategies similar to those for holding the eyes steady on stationary targets. Specifically, we applied the neural integrator hypothesis that originally was developed for holding the eyes still in eccentric gaze positions to describe how the head is held still when turned toward an eccentric target. We found that normal humans make head movements consistent with the neural integrator hypothesis, except that additional sensory feedback is needed, from proprioceptors in the neck, to keep the head on target. We also show that the complicated patterns of head movements in patients with cervical dystonia can be predicted by deficits in a neural integrator for head motor control. These results support ideas originally developed from animal studies that suggest fundamental similarities between oculomotor and cephalomotor control, as well as a conceptual framework for cervical dystonia that departs considerably from current clinical views.
Conductance-based models of reciprocally inhibiting burst neurons suggest that intrinsic membrane properties and postinhibitory rebound (PIR) determine the amplitude and frequency of saccadic oscillations. Reduction of the low-threshold calcium currents (IT) in the model decreased the amplitude but increased the frequency of the simulated oscillations. Combined reduction of hyperpolarization-activated cation current (Ih) and IT in the model abolished the simulated oscillations. We measured the effects of a selective blocker of IT (ethosuximide) in healthy subjects on the amplitude and frequency of saccadic oscillations evoked by eye closure and of a nonselective blocker of Ih and IT (propronolol) in a patient with microsaccadic oscillation and limb tremor syndrome (mSOLT). Ethosuximide significantly reduced the amplitude but increased the frequency of the saccadic oscillations during eye closure in healthy subjects. Propranolol abolished saccadic oscillations in the mSOLT patient. These results support the hypothetical role of postinhibitory rebound, Ih, and IT, in generation of saccadic oscillations and determining their kinematic properties.
burst neurons; hyperpolarization-activated cation current; low-threshold calcium current; reciprocal innervations
Saccadic oscillations threaten clear vision by causing image motion on the retina. They are either purely horizontal (ocular flutter) or multidimensional (opsoclonus). We propose that ion channel dysfunction in the burst cell membrane is the underlying abnormality. We have tested this hypothesis by simulating a neuromimetic computational model of the burst neurons. This biologically realistic model mimics the physiologic properties and anatomic connections in the brainstem saccade generator. A rebound firing after sustained inhibition, called post-inhibitory rebound (PIR), and reciprocal inhibition between premotor saccadic burst neurons are the key features of this conceptual scheme. PIR and reciprocal inhibition make the circuits that generate the saccadic burst inherently unstable and can lead to oscillations unless stabilized by external inhibition. Our simulations suggest that alterations in membrane properties that lead to an increase in PIR, a reduction in external glycinergic inhibition, or both can cause saccadic oscillations.
Rotations of the head evoke compensatory reflexive eye rotations in the orbit to stabilize images onto the fovea. In normal humans, the angular vestibulo-ocular reflex (aVOR) gain (eye/head velocity) changes depending on the head rotation plane. For pitch and yaw head rotations, the gain is near unity, but during roll head rotations, the aVOR gain is ∼0.7. The purpose of this study was to determine whether this physiological discrepancy affects dynamic visual acuity (DVA)—a functional measure of the aVOR that requires subjects to identify letters of varying acuities during head rotation. We used the scleral search coil technique to measure eye and head velocity during passive DVA testing in yaw, roll, and pitch head impulses in healthy controls and patients with unilateral vestibular hypofunction (UVH). For control subjects, the mean aVOR gain during roll impulses was significantly lower than the mean aVOR gain during yaw and pitch impulses; however, there was no difference in DVA between yaw, roll, or pitch. For subjects with UVH, only aVOR gain during head rotations toward the affected side (yaw) were asymmetric (ipsilesional, 0.32 ± 0.17, vs. contralesional, 0.95 ± 0.05), with no asymmetry during roll or pitch. Similarly, there was a large asymmetry for DVA only during yaw head rotations, with no asymmetry in roll or pitch. Interestingly, DVA during roll toward the affected ear was better than DVA during yaw toward the affected ear—even though the ipsilesional roll aVOR gain was 60 % lower. During roll, the axis of eye rotation remains nearly perpendicular to the fovea, resulting in minimal displacement between the fovea and fixation target image projected onto the back of the eye. For subjects with UVH, the DVA score during passive horizontal impulses is a better indicator of poor gaze stability than during passive roll or pitch.
vestibulo-ocular reflex; head impulses; dynamic visual acuity; gain
Ataxia-telangiectasia is known for cerebellar degeneration, but clinical descriptions of abnormal tone, posture, and movements suggest involvement of the network between cerebellum and basal ganglia. We quantitatively assessed the nature of upper-limb movement disorders in ataxia-telangiectasia. We used a three-axis accelerometer to assess the natural history and severity of abnormal upper-limb movements in 80 ataxia-telangiectasia and 19 healthy subjects. Recordings were made during goal-directed movements of upper limb (kinetic task), while arms were outstretched (postural task), and at rest. Almost all ataxia-telangiectasia subjects (79/80) had abnormal involuntary movements, such as rhythmic oscillations (tremor), slow drifts (dystonia or athetosis), and isolated rapid movements (dystonic jerks or myoclonus). All patients with involuntary movements had both kinetic and postural tremor, while 48 (61%) also had resting tremor. The tremor was present in transient episodes lasting several seconds during two-minute recording sessions of all three conditions. Percent time during which episodic tremor was present was greater for postural and kinetic tasks compared to rest. Resting tremor had higher frequency but smaller amplitude than postural and kinetic tremor. Rapid non-rhythmic movements were minimal during rest, but were triggered during sustained arm postures and goal directed arm movements suggesting they are best considered a form of dystonic jerks or action myoclonus. Advancing age did not correlate with the severity of involuntary limb movements. Abnormal upper-limb movements in ataxia-telangiectasia feature classic cerebellar impairment, but also suggest involvement of the network between the cerebellum and basal ganglia.
Vertically incomitant pattern strabismus comprises 50% of infantile horizontal strabismus. The oblique muscle dysfunction has been associated with pattern strabismus. High-resolution orbit imaging and contemporary neurophysiology studies in non-human primate models of strabismus have shed light into the mechanisms of pattern strabismus. In this review, we will examine our current understanding of etiologies of pattern strabismus. Speculated pathophysiology includes oblique muscle dysfunction, loss of fusion with altered recti muscle pull, displacements and instability in connective tissue pulleys of the recti muscles, vestibular hypofunction, and abnormal neural connections. Orbital mechanical factors, such as abnormal pulleys, were reported as a cause of pattern strabismus in patients with craniofacial anomalies, connective tissue disorders, and late-onset strabismus. In contrast, abnormal neural connections could be responsible for the development of a pattern in infantile-onset strabismus. Pattern strabismus is likely multifactorial. Understanding the mechanisms of pattern strabismus is pivotal to determine an appropriate surgical treatment strategy for these patients.
Vestibular velocity storage enhances the efficacy of the angular vestibulo-ocular reflex (VOR) during relatively low-frequency head rotations. This function is modulated by GABA-mediated inhibitory cerebellar projections. Velocity storage also exists in perceptual pathway and has similar functional principles as VOR. However, it is not known whether the neural substrate for perception and VOR overlap. We propose two possibilities. First, there is the same velocity storage for both VOR and perception; second, there are nonoverlapping neural networks: one might be involved in perception and the other for the VOR. We investigated these possibilities by measuring VOR and perceptual responses in healthy human subjects during whole-body, constant-velocity rotation steps about all three dimensions (yaw, pitch, and roll) before and after 10 mg of 4-aminopyridine (4-AP). 4-AP, a selective blocker of inward rectifier potassium conductance, can lead to increased synchronization and precision of Purkinje neuron discharge and possibly enhance the GABAergic action. Hence 4-AP could reduce the decay time constant of the perceived angular velocity and VOR. We found that 4-AP reduced the decay time constant, but the amount of reduction in the two processes, perception and VOR, was not the same, suggesting the possibility of nonoverlapping or partially overlapping neural substrates for VOR and perception. We also noted that, unlike the VOR, the perceived angular velocity gradually built up and plateau prior to decay. Hence, the perception pathway may have additional mechanism that changes the dynamics of perceived angular velocity beyond the velocity storage. 4-AP had no effects on the duration of build-up of perceived angular velocity, suggesting that the higher order processing of perception, beyond the velocity storage, might not occur under the influence of mechanism that could be influenced by 4-AP.
Vestibular; Eye movements; GABA; Brainstem; Velocity storage; Cerebellum
Measurement of eye movements often helps to diagnose ocular motor disorders in the clinic, and is also used as a research tool in ocular motor, vision and vestibular research. Eye movements, however, are usually recorded without simultaneous video recordings, making offline interpretation difficult. We developed a tool that converts the measured eye movement data into a three-dimensional (3D) movie of eye movements. Having useful functions such as slow-play, pause and exaggeration of the movements, this new software provides a research and teaching tool to aid interpretation of the recorded eye movements.
Data visualization; Emulation of eye movements; Clinical tool; Research tool; Teaching tool
Acquired pendular nystagmus (APN) occurs with multiple sclerosis (MS) and oculopalatal tremor (OPT); distinct features of the nystagmus have led to the development of separate models for the pathogenesis. APN in MS has been attributed to instability in the neural integrator, which normally ensures steady gaze. APN in OPT may result from electrotonic coupling between neurons in the hypertrophied inferior olivary nucleus, which induces maladaptive learning in cerebellar cortex. We tested these two hypotheses by analyzing the effects of gabapentin, memantine, and baclofen on both forms of nystagmus. No drug changed the dominant frequency of either form of APN, but the variability of frequency was affected with gabapentin and memantine in patients with OPT. The amplitude of APN in both MS and OPT was reduced with gabapentin and memantine, but not baclofen. Analyzing the effects of drug therapies on ocular oscillations provides a novel approach to test models of nystagmus.
cerebellum; inferior olive; plasticity; learning; Guillain–Mollaret triangle; multiple sclerosis
We review current pharmacological treatments for peripheral and central vestibular disorders, and ocular motor disorders that impair vision, especially pathological nystagmus. The prerequisites for successful pharmacotherapy of vertigo, dizziness, and abnormal eye movements are the “4 D’s”: correct diagnosis, correct drug, appropriate dosage, and sufficient duration. There are seven groups of drugs (the “7 A’s”) that can be used: antiemetics; anti-inflammatory, anti-Ménière’s, and anti-migrainous medications; anti-depressants, anti-convulsants, and aminopyridines. A recovery from acute vestibular neuritis can be promoted by treatment with oral corticosteroids. Betahistine may reduce the frequency of attacks of Ménière’s disease. The aminopyridines constitute a novel treatment approach for downbeat and upbeat nystagmus, as well as episodic ataxia type 2 (EA 2); these drugs may restore normal “pacemaker” activity to the Purkinje cells that govern vestibular and cerebellar nuclei. A limited number of trials indicate that baclofen improves periodic alternating nystagmus, and that gabapentin and memantine improve acquired pendular and infantile (congenital) nystagmus. Preliminary reports suggest suppression of square-wave saccadic intrusions by memantine, and ocular flutter by beta-blockers. Thus, although progress has been made in the treatment of vestibular neuritis, some forms of pathological nystagmus, and EA 2, controlled, masked trials are still needed to evaluate treatments for many vestibular and ocular motor disorders, including betahistine for Ménière’s disease, oxcarbazepine for vestibular paroxysmia, or metoprolol for vestibular migraine.
Vertigo; Dizziness; Vestibular neuritis; Ménière’s disease; Vestibular paroxysmia; Vestibular migraine; Episodic ataxia type 2; Downbeat nystagmus; Upbeat nystagmus; Pendular nystagmus; Periodic alternating nystagmus; Infantile nystagmus; Square-wave saccadic intrusion; Ocular flutter; Opsoclonus
Transformation of head-fixed otolith signals into a space-fixed frame of reference is essential for perception of self-orientation and ocular motor control. In monkeys the nodulus and ventral uvula of the vestibulo-cerebellum facilitate this transformation by computing an internal estimate of direction of gravity. These experimental findings motivated the hypothesis that degeneration of the vestibulo-cerebellum in humans alter perceptual and ocular motor functions that rely on accurate estimates of gravity, such as subjective visual vertical (SVV), static ocular counterroll (OCR), and gravity-dependent modulation of vertical ocular drifts. We assessed the SVV, OCR, and spontaneous vertical ocular drifts in 12 patients with chronic vestibulo-cerebellar disease and in 10 controls. Substantially increased variability in estimated SVV was noted in the patients. Furthermore, gravity-dependent modulation of spontaneous vertical ocular drifts along the pitch plane was significantly (p < 0.05) larger in the patients. However, the gain and variability of static OCR and errors in SVV were not significantly different. In conclusion, in chronic vestibulo-cerebellar disease SVV and OCR remain intact except for an abnormal variability in the perception of verticality and impaired stabilization of gaze mediated by the otoliths. These findings suggest that OCR and perceived vertical are relatively independent from the cerebellum unless there is a cerebellar imbalance like an acute unilateral cerebellar stroke. The increased trial-to-trial SVV variability may be a general feature of cerebellar disease since a function of the cerebellum may be to compensate for such. SVV variability might be useful to monitor disease progression and treatment response in patients.
cerebellar degeneration; subjective visual vertical; ocular counterroll; spontaneous vertical deviation; otoliths
Saccadic eye movements rapidly orient the line of sight towards the object of interest. Pre-motor burst neurons (BNs) controlling saccades receive excitation from superior colliculus and cerebellum, but inhibition by omnipause neurons (OPNs) prevents saccades. When the OPNs pause, BNs begin to fire. It has been presumed that part of the BN burst comes from post-inhibitory rebound (PIR). We hypothesized that in the absence of prior inhibition from OPNs there would be no PIR, and thus the increase in initial firing rate of BNs would be reduced. Consequently, saccade acceleration would be reduced. We measured eye movements and showed that sustained eye closure, which inhibits the activity of OPNs and thus hypothetically should weaken PIR, reduced the peak velocity, acceleration, and deceleration of saccades in healthy human subjects. Saccades under closed eyelids also had irregular trajectories; the frequency of the oscillations underlying this irregularity was similar to that of high-frequency ocular flutter (back-to-back saccades) often seen in normal subjects during attempted fixation at straight ahead while eyes are closed. Saccades and quick phases of nystagmus are generated by the same pre-motor neurons, and we found that the quick-phase velocity of nystagmus was also reduced by lid closure. These changes were not due to a mechanical hindrance to the eyes, because lid closure did not affect the peak velocities or accelerations of the eyes in the “slow-phase” response to rapid head movements of comparable speeds to those of saccades. These results indicate a role for OPNs in generating the abrupt onset and high velocities of saccades. We hypothesize that the mechanism involved is PIR in pre-motor burst neurons.
Omnipause neurons; Burst neurons; Oscillations; Ballistic movement; Post-inhibitory rebound
The inferior olivary nuclei clearly play a role in creating oculopalatal tremor, but the exact mechanism is unknown. Oculopalatal tremor develops some time after a lesion in the brain that interrupts inhibition of the inferior olive by the deep cerebellar nuclei. Over time the inferior olive gradually becomes hypertrophic and its neurons enlarge developing abnormal soma-somatic gap junctions. However, results from several experimental studies have confounded the issue because they seem inconsistent with a role for the inferior olive in oculopalatal tremor, or because they ascribe the tremor to other brain areas. Here we look at 3D binocular eye movements in 15 oculopalatal tremor patients and compare their behaviour to the output of our recent mathematical model of oculopalatal tremor. This model has two mechanisms that interact to create oculopalatal tremor: an oscillator in the inferior olive and a modulator in the cerebellum. Here we show that this dual mechanism model can reproduce the basic features of oculopalatal tremor and plausibly refute the confounding experimental results. Oscillations in all patients and simulations were aperiodic, with a complicated frequency spectrum showing dominant components from 1 to 3 Hz. The model’s synchronized inferior olive output was too small to induce noticeable ocular oscillations, requiring amplification by the cerebellar cortex. Simulations show that reducing the influence of the cerebellar cortex on the oculomotor pathway reduces the amplitude of ocular tremor, makes it more periodic and pulse-like, but leaves its frequency unchanged. Reducing the coupling among cells in the inferior olive decreases the oscillation’s amplitude until they stop (at ∼20% of full coupling strength), but does not change their frequency. The dual-mechanism model accounts for many of the properties of oculopalatal tremor. Simulations suggest that drug therapies designed to reduce electrotonic coupling within the inferior olive or reduce the disinhibition of the cerebellar cortex on the deep cerebellar nuclei could treat oculopalatal tremor. We conclude that oculopalatal tremor oscillations originate in the hypertrophic inferior olive and are amplified by learning in the cerebellum.
vestibular; gap junction; connexin; motor disorders; eye movement
Essential tremor (ET) is the most common movement disorder and its pathophysiology is unknown. We hypothesize that increased membrane excitability in motor circuits has a key role in the pathogenesis of ET. Specifically, we propose that neural circuits controlling ballistic movements are inherently unstable due to their underlying reciprocal innervation. Such instability is enhanced by increased neural membrane excitability and the circuit begins to oscillate. These oscillations manifest as tremor.
Postural limb tremor was recorded in 22 ET patients and then the phenotype was simulated with a conductance-based neuromimetic model of ballistic movements. The model neuron was Hodgkin-Huxley type with added hyperpolarization activated cation current (Ih), low threshold calcium current (IT), and GABA and glycine mediated chloride currents. The neurons also featured the neurophysiological property of rebound excitation after release from sustained inhibition (post-inhibitory rebound). The model featured a reciprocally innervated circuit of neurons that project to agonist and antagonist muscle pairs.
Neural excitability was modulated by changing Ih and/or IT. Increasing Ih and/or IT further depolarized the membrane and thus increased excitability. The characteristics of the tremor from all ET patients were simulated when Ih was increased to ~10× the range of physiological values. In contrast, increasing other membrane conductances, while keeping Ih at a physiological value, did not simulate the tremor. Increases in Ih and IT determined the frequency and amplitude of the simulated oscillations.
These simulations support the hypothesis that increased membrane excitability in potentially unstable, reciprocally innervated circuits can produce oscillations that resemble ET. Neural excitability could be increased in a number of ways. In this study membrane excitability was increased by up-regulating Ih and IT. This approach suggests new experimental and clinical ways to understand and treat common tremor disorders.