Discordant horizontal-torsional nystagmus: a sign of posterior semicircular canal dysfunction

J Neurol. 2022 Sep;269(9):5038-5046. doi: 10.1007/s00415-022-11155-2. Epub 2022 May 11.


In central as well as peripheral vestibular lesions, right-beating horizontal nystagmus is almost always associated with clockwise (top poles of the eyes beating to the right ear) torsional nystagmus when observed and vice versa (concordant nystagmus). This study aimed to determine the etiologies and mechanisms of horizontal and torsional nystagmus beating in the opposite directions (discordant nystagmus). We reviewed the medical records of 16 consecutive patients with discordant horizontal-torsional nystagmus who had been evaluated at the dizziness clinics of Seoul National University Bundang Hospital (n = 11, from March 2003 to March 2021) and Korea University Medical Center (n = 5, from March 2019 to March 2021). The underlying etiologies included inferior vestibular neuritis (n = 7), Meniere's disease (n = 4), internuclear ophthalmoplegia (n = 3), medullary hemorrhage (n = 1), and normal pressure hydrocephalus (n = 1). The torsional nystagmus decreased during the gaze in the same direction (for instance, during rightward gaze in clockwise nystagmus) and increased during the gaze in the opposite direction. Head-impulse tests (HITs) were positive for the ipsilesional posterior canal (PC) in all 11 patients with unilateral peripheral vestibulopathy and two of the three patients with unilateral central vestibulopathy. Discordant horizontal-torsional nystagmus may be observed in peripheral as well as central lesions. Given the findings of HITs and modulation of spontaneous nystagmus during lateral gazes, discordant horizontal-torsional nystagmus may be ascribed to selective damage of the excitatory or inhibitory pathway from the PC that innervates the ipsilateral superior oblique and contralateral inferior rectus muscles.

Keywords: Internuclear ophthalmoplegia; Meniere’s disease; Nystagmus; Vertigo; Vestibular neuritis.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Meniere Disease* / complications
  • Nystagmus, Pathologic* / complications
  • Nystagmus, Pathologic* / etiology
  • Semicircular Canals
  • Vestibular Neuronitis* / complications
  • Vestibular Neuronitis* / diagnosis
  • Vestibule, Labyrinth*