Acquired pendular nystagmus: its characteristics, localising value and pathophysiology

J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 1982 May;45(5):431-9. doi: 10.1136/jnnp.45.5.431.


Investigations were made of 16 patients with acquired pendular nystagmus and a further 32 cases reported in the literature were reviewed. Amongst our own patients two thirds had multiple sclerosis, almost one third a cerebrovascular accident or angioma and two had optic atrophy with squint. The nystagmus took forms which could be monocular or binocular, conjugate or disconjugate and could involve movements about single or multiple axes. Spectral analysis was used to characterise the amplitude and frequency of the movements and to estimate the degree of relationship (coherence) between movements of the two eyes or between movements of one eye about several axes. The oscillations ranged in frequency from 2·5 Hz to 6 Hz, with typical amplitudes between 3° and 5°. In a given patient all oscillations, regardless of plane, were highly synchronised. Somatic tremors of the upper limb, face and palate associated with the nystagmus were often at similar frequencies to the eye movement. The other ocular signs common to all our patients were the presence of squint with failure of convergence. Most patients also had skew deviation or internuclear ophthalmoplegia or both. The major oculomotor systems, that is, saccades, pursuit, optokinetic and vestibulo-ocular reflexes could be intact. It is inferred that the mechanism responsible for the pendular nystagmus lies at a level which is close to the oculomotor nuclei so that it can have monocular effects but is not part of the primary motor pathways. It is possible that this mechanism normally subserves maintenance of conjugate movement and posture of the eyes. The periodicity of the nystagmus is likely to arise from instability in a certain type(s) of neurone, for the associated somatic tremors have similar characteristics and yet involve very different neuronal muscular circuitry. Prognosis for cessation of the nystagmus is poor. In five patients with multiple sclerosis it was suppressed by intravenous hyoscine with, however, unacceptable subsequent side effects.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Amblyopia / physiopathology
  • Brain Neoplasms / physiopathology
  • Brain Stem / physiopathology
  • Cerebellar Diseases / physiopathology*
  • Cerebellar Nuclei / physiopathology
  • Cerebral Infarction / physiopathology
  • Child
  • Electronystagmography
  • Encephalitis / physiopathology
  • Female
  • Hemangioma / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Multiple Sclerosis / physiopathology
  • Nystagmus, Pathologic / physiopathology*
  • Optic Atrophy / physiopathology
  • Saccades
  • Scopolamine / therapeutic use


  • Scopolamine