Isolated vestibular nuclear infarction: report of two cases and review of the literature

J Neurol. 2014 Jan;261(1):121-9. doi: 10.1007/s00415-013-7139-0. Epub 2013 Oct 27.


Cerebral infarction presenting with isolated vertigo remains a diagnostic challenge. To define the clinical characteristics of unilateral infarctions restricted to the vestibular nuclei, two patients with isolated unilateral vestibular nuclear infarction had bedside and laboratory evaluation of the ocular motor and vestibular function, including video-oculography, bithermal caloric irrigation, the head impulse test (HIT) using magnetic scleral coils, and cervical and ocular vestibular-evoked myogenic potentials (VEMPs). We also reviewed the literature on isolated vertigo from lesions restricted to the vestibular nuclei, and analyzed the clinical features of seven additional patients. Both patients showed spontaneous torsional-horizontal nystagmus that beat away from the lesion side, and direction-changing gaze-evoked nystagmus. Recording of HIT using a magnetic search coil system documented decreased gains of the vestibular-ocular reflex for the horizontal and posterior semicircular canals on both sides, but more for the ipsilesional canals. Bithermal caloric tests showed ipsilesional canal paresis in both patients. Cervical and ocular VEMPs showed decreased or absent responses during stimulation of the ipsilesional ear. Initial MRIs including diffusion-weighted images were normal or equivocal, but follow-up imaging disclosed a circumscribed acute infarction in the area of the vestibular nuclei. Infarctions restricted to the vestibular nuclei may present with isolated vertigo with features of both peripheral and central vestibulopathies. Central signs should be sought even in patients with spontaneous horizontal-torsional nystagmus and positive HIT. In patients with combined peripheral and central vestibulopathy, a vestibular nuclear lesion should be considered especially when hearing is preserved.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Brain Infarction / diagnosis*
  • Brain Infarction / physiopathology*
  • Caloric Tests
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Nystagmus, Pathologic / etiology
  • Reflex, Vestibulo-Ocular / physiology
  • Vestibular Evoked Myogenic Potentials
  • Vestibular Function Tests
  • Vestibular Nuclei / pathology*