Purpose of review: During the past year a number of studies have been published on eye movement dysfunction in patients with psychiatric disease. According to the mainstream of modern neuropsychiatric research, these studies cover either genetic aspects or the results of pharmacological manipulation.
Recent findings: A few studies addressed impaired smooth pursuit eye movements (eye tracking dysfunction) in unaffected relatives of psychiatric patients, and were important in excluding non-specific effects (e.g. medication) and isolating genetic predisposition to the disease. This predisposition could be demonstrated in families of schizophrenic patients irrespective of whether the index case was sporadic or familial. One large study demonstrated pathological distributions of various parameters of smooth pursuit eye movement performance in groups of schizophrenic patients and their relatives. However, another study challenged the specificity of eye tracking dysfunction as a trait marker for schizophrenia by showing that its prevalence was identical among relatives of patients with affective disorder and schizophrenia. Eye tracking dysfunction was associated with two gene polymorphisms that interfere with dopamine metabolism and are thus reasonable candidate genes for the predisposition to schizophrenia. The influence of nicotine and neuroleptic drugs on eye movement performance was studied in schizophrenic patients. Nicotine improved smooth pursuit performance in three studies, one of which attributed this finding to enhanced attention. Two groups of schizophrenic patients treated with two different atypical neuroleptic drugs, risperidone and olanzapine, did not differ in a battery of saccadic tasks.
Summary: Eye movements provide an important tool to measure pharmacological effects in patients and unravel genetic traits in psychiatric disease.