, Volume 256, Issue 9, pp 1438-1446

Comparison of smooth pursuit eye movement deficits in multiple system atrophy and Parkinson’s disease

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Because of the large overlap and quantitative similarity of eye movement alterations in Parkinson’s disease (PD) and multiple system atrophy (MSA), a measurement of eye movement is generally not considered helpful for the differential diagnosis. However, in view of the pathophysiological differences between MSA and PD as well as between the cerebellar (MSA-C) and Parkinsonian (MSA-P) subtypes of MSA, we wondered whether a detailed investigation of oculomotor performance would unravel parameters that could help to differentiate between these entities. We recorded eye movements during sinusoidal pursuit tracking by means of video-oculography in 11 cases of MSA-P, 8 cases of MSA-C and 27 cases of PD and compared them to 23 healthy controls (CTL). The gain of the smooth pursuit eye movement (SPEM) component exhibited significant group differences between each of the three subject groups (MSA, PD, controls) but not between MSA-P and MSA-C. The similarity of pursuit impairment in MSA-P and in MSA-C suggests a commencement of cerebellar pathology in MSA-P despite the lack of clinical signs. Otherwise, SPEM gain was of little use for differential diagnosis between MSA and PD because of wide overlap. However, inspection of the saccadic component of pursuit tracking revealed that in MSA saccades typically correct for position errors accumulated during SPEM epochs (“catch-up saccades”), whereas in PD, saccades were often directed toward future target positions (“anticipatory saccades”). The differences in pursuit tracking between PD and MSA were large enough to warrant their use as ancillary diagnostic criteria for the distinction between these disorders.