Reduced Frequency of Ipsilateral Express Saccades in Cervical Dystonia: Probing the Nigro-Tectal Pathway

  • Rebecca Barbara Beck
  • Simone L Kneafsey
  • Shruti Narasimham
  • Sean O'Riordan
  • Tadashi Isa
  • Michael Hutchinson
  • Richard B Reilly


Background: Cervical dystonia is a hyperkinetic movement disorder of unknown cause. Symptoms of cervical dystonia have been induced in animals in which the integrity of the nigro-tectal pathway is disrupted, resulting in reduced inhibition of the deep layers of the superior colliculus. This same pathway is believed to play a critical role in saccade generation, particularly visually guided, express saccades. It was hypothesized that individuals with cervical dystonia would present with a higher frequency of express saccades and more directional errors.

Methods: Eight individuals with cervical dystonia and 11 age- and sex-matched control participants performed three saccadic paradigms: pro-saccade, gap, and anti-saccade (120 trials per task). Eye movements were recorded using electro-oculography.

Results: Mean saccadic reaction times were slower in the cervical dystonia group (only statistically significant in the anti-saccade task, F(1, 35) 5 4.76, p 5 0.036); participants with cervical dystonia produced fewer directional errors (mean 14% vs. 22%) in the anti-saccade task; and had similar frequencies of express saccades in the gap task relative to our control population (chi-square 5 1.13, p 5 0.287). All cervical dystonia participants had lower frequencies of express saccades ipsilateral to their dystonic side (the side to which their head turns), (chi-square 5 3.57, p 5 0.059).

Discussion: The finding of slower saccadic reaction times in cervical dystonia does not support the concept of reduced inhibition in the nigro-tectal pathway. Further research is required to confirm the observed relationship between the lateralization of lower frequencies of express saccades and direction of head rotation in cervical dystonia.