Fixation instability in amblyopia: Oculomotor disease biomarkers predictive of treatment effectiveness

Prog Brain Res. 2019:249:235-248. doi: 10.1016/bs.pbr.2019.04.024. Epub 2019 Jun 20.


Amblyopic patients are known to have fixation instability, particularly of the amblyopic eye. The stability of the fixation is affected by the presence of nystagmus, the frequency and amplitude of fixational saccades and inter-saccadic drifts. Amblyopic patients without nystagmus have increased amplitude of the fixational saccades with reduced frequency of the physiologic microsaccades and have increased inter-saccadic drifts. Amblyopia patients who have experienced a disruption in binocularity in early infancy develop fusion maldevelopment nystagmus (FMN) previously called latent nystagmus as it is more evident during monocular viewing conditions. We have found that some amblyopic patients can have nystagmus with slow phases that are not directed nasally and without the reversal in direction on ocular occlusion, features seen in patients with FMN. The current mainstay of amblyopia treatment comprises of part-time occlusion therapy of the non-amblyopic eye. The amount of patching treatment is in the range of 2-6h/day as determined by the severity of amblyopia. Despite treatment, up to 40% of patients have residual amblyopia. We analyzed the effectiveness of part-time occlusion therapy in amblyopic patients as a function of fixation instability. We categorized amblyopic patients based on their eye movement waveforms obtained during a visual fixation task into those lacking nystagmus, those with FMN and those with nystagmus but no FMN. We did a retrospective chart review to gather information about their clinical characteristics and treatment response. We found that patients with FMN require a more prolonged duration of treatment and have a poorer recovery of stereopsis compared to patients with nystagmus but no FMN and patients lacking nystagmus. This study suggests that eye movement assessment provides valuable information in the management of amblyopia.

Keywords: Amblyopia; Fixation instability; Latent nystagmus; Microsaccades; Nystagmus.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Amblyopia / physiopathology*
  • Amblyopia / therapy
  • Biomarkers
  • Depth Perception / physiology*
  • Eye Movement Measurements
  • Female
  • Fixation, Ocular / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Nystagmus, Pathologic / physiopathology*
  • Ocular Motility Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Treatment Outcome*


  • Biomarkers