Beyond Rehabilitation of Acuity, Ocular Alignment, and Binocularity in Infantile Strabismus

Front Syst Neurosci. 2018 Jul 18;12:29. doi: 10.3389/fnsys.2018.00029. eCollection 2018.


Infantile strabismus impairs the perception of all attributes of the visual scene. High spatial frequency components are no longer visible, leading to amblyopia. Binocularity is altered, leading to the loss of stereopsis. Spatial perception is impaired as well as detection of vertical orientation, the fastest movements, directions of movement, the highest contrasts and colors. Infantile strabismus also affects other vision-dependent processes such as control of postural stability. But presently, rehabilitative therapies for infantile strabismus by ophthalmologists, orthoptists and optometrists are restricted to preventing or curing amblyopia of the deviated eye, aligning the eyes and, whenever possible, preserving or restoring binocular vision during the critical period of development, i.e., before ~10 years of age. All the other impairments are thus ignored; whether they may recover after strabismus treatment even remains unknown. We argue here that medical and paramedical professionals may extend their present treatments of the perceptual losses associated with infantile strabismus. This hypothesis is based on findings from fundamental research on visual system organization of higher mammals in particular at the cortical level. In strabismic subjects (as in normal-seeing ones), information about all of the visual attributes converge, interact and are thus inter-dependent at multiple levels of encoding ranging from the single neuron to neuronal assemblies in visual cortex. Thus if the perception of one attribute is restored this may help to rehabilitate the perception of other attributes. Concomitantly, vision-dependent processes may also improve. This could occur spontaneously, but still should be assessed and validated. If not, medical and paramedical staff, in collaboration with neuroscientists, will have to break new ground in the field of therapies to help reorganize brain circuitry and promote more comprehensive functional recovery. Findings from fundamental research studies in both young and adult patients already support our hypothesis and are reviewed here. For example, presenting different contrasts to each eye of a strabismic patient during training sessions facilitates recovery of acuity in the amblyopic eye as well as of 3D perception. Recent data also demonstrate that visual recoveries in strabismic subjects improve postural stability. These findings form the basis for a roadmap for future research and clinical development to extend presently applied rehabilitative therapies for infantile strabismus.

Keywords: cortical plasticity; extending rehabilitation; infantile strabismus; interdisciplinary approach.