Does unilateral utricular dysfunction cause horizontal spontaneous nystagmus?

Eur Arch Otorhinolaryngol. 2012 Nov;269(11):2441-5. doi: 10.1007/s00405-012-2127-z. Epub 2012 Aug 7.


The presence of spontaneous nystagmus in darkness with a strong horizontal component has been taken to indicate that there is asymmetrical function of the horizontal semicircular canals. If this horizontal spontaneous nystagmus can be suppressed by vision, then it is regarded as due to peripheral horizontal canal dysfunction. However, we report evidence from one patient (61-year-old male), who visited the MSA ENT Clinic, Cassino (FR) Italy, reporting acute, severe vertigo, postural unsteadiness, nausea and vomiting associated with right sudden hearing loss. The patient received instrumental audiovestibular testing to obtain objective measurements of his inner-ear receptors. At the time of the attack, the patient showed spontaneous nystagmus, mainly with horizontal and vertical components (3D infrared video-oculography). Video head-impulse tests of dynamic horizontal canal function showed that the functional status of both horizontal canals was within the normal range. Cervical VEMPs to 500 Hz bone-conducted vibration at Fz showed normal results; ocular VEMPs to the same stimulus showed a reduced n10 amplitude beneath the left eye, corresponding to the right ear. For this reason, the patient was diagnosed as having right unilateral selective utricular macula lesion due to labyrinthitis. There is considerable evidence of convergence of neural input from the otoliths onto horizontal canal neurons in the vestibular nuclei. The firing of such neurons could reflect either asymmetrical horizontal canal function or asymmetrical utricular function. The problem with this patient was not due to asymmetrical horizontal canal function, but only to asymmetrical utricular function, demonstrated by the results of the oVEMP test.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Labyrinthitis / physiopathology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nystagmus, Pathologic / physiopathology*
  • Otolithic Membrane / physiopathology
  • Reflex, Vestibulo-Ocular
  • Saccule and Utricle / physiopathology*
  • Semicircular Canals / physiopathology*
  • Vertigo / physiopathology
  • Vestibular Evoked Myogenic Potentials
  • Vestibular Function Tests