"Joubert syndrome" revisited: key ocular motor signs with magnetic resonance imaging correlation

J Child Neurol. 1997 Oct;12(7):423-30. doi: 10.1177/088307389701200703.


Joubert syndrome is characterized by episodic hyperpnea and apnea, developmental delay, hypotonia, truncal ataxia, ophthalmologic abnormalities, and vermian dysgenesis. We studied 15 patients with the diagnosis of Joubert syndrome to (1) more fully define the syndrome's clinical features, and (2) correlate the clinical features with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) findings. Eight of 15 patients had a history of episodic hyperpnea and apnea. All patients had developmental delay and hypotonia. Of the 13 patients receiving detailed neuro-ophthalmologic evaluations, three had optic nerve dysplasia, pendular nystagmus, and gaze-holding nystagmus. All 13 patients had a normal vestibulo-ocular reflex based on head thrust, but had absent to poor ability to cancel the vestibulo-ocular reflex horizontally and vertically. Twelve of 13 patients had impaired smooth pursuit. Twelve of 13 patients had defects in initiation of saccades and quick phases. Two of the most consistent radiologic features were absent or hypoplastic posterior cerebellar vermis, and deformed midbrain and pontomesencephalic junction, which based on ocular motor physiology correlate with the vestibulo-ocular reflex cancellation/ pursuit defect and saccade initiation defect, respectively. As a result of midbrain, vermian, and superior cerebellar peduncle abnormalities, axial neuroimaging showed a unique "molar tooth" appearance of these structures. These results indicate that Joubert syndrome results from maldevelopment of the midbrain and cerebellar vermis, producing a pathognomonic sign on MRI.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Apnea
  • Cerebellar Ataxia / diagnosis
  • Cerebellar Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Cerebellum / abnormalities*
  • Cerebellum / diagnostic imaging
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Developmental Disabilities / physiopathology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Mesencephalon / abnormalities*
  • Mesencephalon / diagnostic imaging
  • Radiography
  • Reflex, Vestibulo-Ocular
  • Saccades
  • Syndrome