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January 1986

Analysis of Downbeat Nystagmus: Otolithic vs Semicircular Canal Influences

Author Affiliations

From the Medical Research Council Neurootology Unit, National Hospital, London.

Arch Neurol. 1986;43(1):52-55. doi:10.1001/archneur.1986.00520010048021

• The relative strengths of vertical canal and otolithic factors influencing downbeat nystagmus (DBN) were investigated in a patient whose nystagmus was of maximum intensity with the head in the upright position and abolished with the head in the supine position. The vestibuloocular reflex (VOR) was assessed by oscillating the patient about both the supine and upright positions. During oscillation about the supine position both the upward and downward VORs had equal gains in the dark (0.6) and unity gain in the light. In contrast, during oscillation about the upright, the upward VOR became hyperactive with a gain of 1.8 in the dark and 1.2 in the light, whereas the downward VOR became hypoactive with a maximum gain of 0.86 in the light. This degree of asymmetry of the VOR is greater than would be expected from a summation of spontaneous nystagmus with normal canal reflexes. We concluded that the DBN arose from an asymmetry of vertical canal function, which became manifest when the otoliths were tilted with respect to gravity. Contrasting findings are presented in a patient whose DBN was insensitive to tilt. It would seem that other cases of DBN lie on a continuum between these extreme examples.

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