Smooth pursuit eye tracking over a structured background in first-episode schizophrenic patients

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While most laboratory smooth pursuit tasks are performed in the dark, in everyday life pursuit commonly occurs over a structured background. This background provides a powerful stimulus to the optokinetic (OKR), inducing a background “drag” on pursuit eye movements. An inability to inhibit the influence of the OKR may be a contributing factor to the dysfunctional pursuit performance observed in many schizophrenic patients. Smooth pursuit performance was measured in 23 first-episode schizophrenic patients and 23 healthy controls matched for age and estimated IQ, both in the dark and over a structured background (a random checkerboard of black and white squares). Velocity gain was measured, as well as the number and size of corrective saccades (catch-up saccades) and intrusive saccades (anticipatory saccades and square wave jerks). Overall, schizophrenic patiens had lower velocity gain and made more catch-up saccades than controls. The effect of the background was to lower velocity gain and increase the number of catch-up saccades to the same extent in schizophrenic patients and controls. There were no significant interactions between group and background effect. These results suggest that, although their overall level of performance was worse, the schizophrenic patients were as able as controls to inhibit the effect of the OKR. Since lesion studies show that inhibition of the OKR requires intact inferior parietal regions in man (Lawden et al., 1995), one hypothesis is that the parietal component of smooth pursuit may be intact in schizophrenia.

Received: 10 December 2000 / Accepted: 22 May 2000