Open Access Research article

Eye movement impairments in Parkinson's disease: possible role of extradopaminergic mechanisms

Elmar H Pinkhardt1*, Reinhart Jürgens2, Dorothée Lulé12, Johanna Heimrath1, Albert C Ludolph1, Wolfgang Becker2 and Jan Kassubek12

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Neurology, University of Ulm, Oberer Eselsberg 45, 89081 Ulm, Germany

2 Department of Neurology, Section Neurophysiology, University of Ulm, Ulm, Germany

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BMC Neurology 2012, 12:5  doi:10.1186/1471-2377-12-5

Published: 29 February 2012



The basal ganglia (BG) are thought to play an important role in the control of eye movements. Accordingly, the broad variety of subtle oculomotor alterations that has been described in Parkinson's disease (PD) are generally attributed to the dysfunction of the BG dopaminergic system. However, the present study suggest that dopamine substitution is much less effective in improving oculomotor performance than it is in restoring skeletomotor abilities.


We investigated reactive, visually guided saccades (RS), smooth pursuit eye movements (SPEM), and rapidly left-right alternating voluntary gaze shifts (AVGS) by video-oculography in 34 PD patients receiving oral dopaminergic medication (PD-DA), 14 patients with deep brain stimulation of the nucleus subthalamicus (DBS-STN), and 23 control subjects (CTL);In addition, we performed a thorough review of recent literature according therapeuthic effects on oculomotor performance in PD by switching deep brain stimulation off and on in the PD-DBS patients, we achieved swift changes between their therapeutic states without the delays of dopamine withdrawal. In addition, participants underwent neuropsychological testing.


Patients exhibited the well known deficits such as increased saccade latency, reduced SPEM gain, and reduced frequency and amplitude of AVGS. Across patients none of the investigated oculomotor parameters correlated with UPDRS III whereas there was a negative correlation between SPEM gain and susceptibility to interference (Stroop score). Of the observed deficiencies, DBS-STN slightly improved AVGS frequency but neither AVGS amplitude nor SPEM or RS performance.


We conclude that the impairment of SPEM in PD results from a cortical, conceivably non-dopaminergic dysfunction, whereas patients' difficulty to rapidly execute AVGS might be related to their BG dysfunction.

Deep brain stimulation; Parkinson's Disease; Oculomotor function; Neurophysiology; Eye movement; Neurodegeneration