Torsional nystagmus. A neuro-otological and MRI study of thirty-five cases

L Lopez, A M Bronstein, M A Gresty, P Rudge, E P du Boulay
Brain 1992, 115: 1107-24
Thirty-five patients with torsional nystagmus (TN) underwent vestibular and ocular motor assessment and magnetic resonance image (MRI) scanning of the head. Patients were divided into two groups according to whether TN was predominant and present in primary gaze (Group I, 23 patients) or elicited by head positioning or gaze deviation and less prominent than other concurrent nystagmus (Group II, 12 patients). The main aetiologies in both groups were demyelination, vascular disease and posterior fossa tumours. In Group I, a frequent pattern of findings, occurring in 30-50% of cases, was a caloric canal paresis contralateral to the direction of the fast phases ('beat') of the TN, whereas the duration of horizontal caloric/rotational nystagmus and the slow-phase eye velocity of pursuit and of optokinetic nystagmus were all reduced in the direction of beating. The TN was more frequently and consistently modulated by vertical canal stimuli (head oscillation in roll) than by otolith stimuli (static tilt). Statistical analysis of the MRI showed significant overlap of abnormal MRI signals in the area of the vestibular nuclei, on the side opposite to the beat direction of TN. These results suggest that TN originates in a central imbalance of vertical semicircular canal function, resulting from lesions involving the vestibular nuclei on the opposite side of the TN. Group II was heterogeneous with no consistent pattern of neuro-otological findings, although lesions ipsilateral to the TN were frequent occurrence; in these cases cerebellar system lesions may have produced ipsilateral vestibular nuclei disinhibition.

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