Spontaneous, Voluntary, and Reflex Blinking in Clinical Practice

J Clin Neurophysiol. 2019 Nov;36(6):415-421. doi: 10.1097/WNP.0000000000000561.


Blinking is one of the motor acts performed more frequently by healthy human subjects. It involves the reciprocal action of at least two muscles: the orbicularis oculi shows a brief phasic activation while the levator palpebrae shows transient inhibition. In clinical practice, noninvasive recording of the orbicularis oculi activity is sufficient to obtain useful information for electrodiagnostic testing. Blinking can be spontaneous, voluntary, or reflex. Although the analysis of spontaneous blinks can already furnish interesting data, most studies are based on reflex blinking. This article is a review of some of the alterations that can be observed in blinking, focusing in four patterns of abnormality that can be distinguished in the blink reflex: (1) afferent versus efferent, which allows characterization of trigeminal or facial lesions; (2) peripheral versus central, which distinguishes alterations in nerve conduction from those involving synaptic delay; (3) upper versus lower brainstem lesions, which indicates the lesions involving specific circuits for trigeminal and somatosensory blink reflexes; and (4) asymmetric abnormal excitability pattern, which shows a unilateral alteration in the descending control of excitability in brainstem circuits. The blink reflex excitability recovery curve to paired stimuli may provide information about other modulatory inputs to trigemino-facial circuits, such as those proposed for the connection between basal ganglia and trigeminal neurons. Finally, prepulse inhibition of blink reflex reflects the motor surrogate of subcortical gating on sensory volleys, which is still another window by which electrodiagnosis can document motor control mechanisms and their abnormalities in neurologic diseases.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Blinking / physiology*
  • Electromyography / methods
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Nervous System Diseases / diagnosis
  • Reflex / physiology*