Aims: To follow visual development longitudinally in the normal neonate using the flash visual evoked potential (VEP) and to find indications for a relationship between potential development and visual development.
Methods: Twenty healthy infants, born at term, were included in the study. Flash and patterned flash VEPs were used. The first VEP was recorded the day of birth or just postnatally, and succeeding recordings were performed the following weeks and months.
Results: The data revealed different types of VEP in the neonatal period suggesting great variability in visual function on the day of birth. In the early development a potential of long latency and duration preceded the development of a more compound potential of shorter latency. The two types of responses seemed to coalesce during early development; the first late response was attenuated and was eventually integrated in the more mature VEP. At approximately five weeks of age changes in the VEP were simultaneous with the development of responsive smiling and another visual behaviour of the infants.
Conclusions: The results showed many similarities between the VEP development in infants and in immature animals. In developing animals geniculo-cortical and extra-geniculate visual afferent pathways evoke two types of VEPs similar to those recorded in the present study. The early responses were also similar to previous recordings from children with lesions in the geniculo-striatal pathway or primary cortex. Our interpretation of the results was that the human VEP also consists of responses evoked by afferents running both in geniculo-cortical and extra-geniculate pathways and that the two types of responses could be separated in the VEP in the neonatal period. These findings are important for our understanding of conditions with a delay in visual maturation, for example intracranial haemorrhages, hydrocephalus, pre/dys-maturity and 'idiopathic' delayed visual maturation.