Objectives: To study the relationship between the major horizontal and minor torsional components of congenital nystagmus to elucidate the diagnostic importance, effects on vision, and pathogenetic implications of the torsional components.
Methods: We recorded the eye movements of 13 subjects with congenital nystagmus using a three-dimensional magnetic search coil technique over a 15-year period. The subjects fixated on stationary targets straight ahead and along the horizontal and vertical meridians. Six of the 10 subjects with horizontal congenital nystagmus were asymptomatic; the remaining 4 (plus two with a vertical component to their congenital nystagmus) had adult-onset symptoms. An additional subject without symptoms had a vertical congenital nystagmus component plus seesaw nystagmus; one of the symptomatic subjects also had seesaw nystagmus.
Results: In all 13 subjects, the horizontal and torsional cycles were phase-locked, and positive horizontal (rightward), vertical (upward, if any), and torsional (clockwise) motion coincided in 10 subjects. That is, rightward horizontal eye rotation coincided with clockwise curvilinear motion (rightward and downward) of the upper pole of each eye. During the horizontal foveation periods, torsional motion was also of low velocity. In 2 of 13 subjects, the torsional waveforms differed from those in the horizontal plane; in others, the direction or the variation with gaze angle differed from that predicted by Listing. In each of the 13 subjects, the torsional components ranged from 8.16% to 94.42% (median, 32.94%) of the peak-to-peak magnitudes of the congenital nystagmus. In most cases, the measured torsion was far greater than that predicted by Listing's law for a worst-case analysis (range, 0.69-11.83%; median, 4.91%). The torsional components of the two subjects with seesaw nystagmus were 60.48% and 264.02%.
Conclusions: The manner in which the horizontal and torsional components of "horizontal" congenital nystagmus were phase-locked made clinical detection of the torsional component difficult. Most "horizontal" congenital nystagmus is actually horizontal-torsional congenital nystagmus. Visual acuity during horizontal foveation periods is not significantly diminished by torsional motion. In only one subject did the torsional component of the congenital nystagmus have an amplitude equivalent to Listing torsion; in the other 12 subjects, torsion exceeded our estimate of what Listing's law would predict. The torsional components of the seesaw nystagmus in two subjects also greatly exceeded the torsion predicted by Listing torsion. The most parsimonious explanation for our data is that the cyclic torsion in congenital nystagmus was generated centrally and not a result of Listing torsion, mechanical crosstalk, or normal or abnormal extraocular-muscle (plant) dynamics. Further measurements are needed to confirm this hypothesis.