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Smooth pursuit eye movements in children

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Smooth pursuit eye movements consists of slow eye movements that approximate the velocity of the eyes to that of a small moving target, so that target image is kept at or near the fovea. Little information on smooth pursuit is available in children. We used an infrared eye tracker to record smooth pursuit in 38 typically developing children, aged 8–19 years. Participants followed a visual target moving sinusoidally at ±10° amplitude, horizontally and vertically at 0.25 or 0.5 Hz. The mean horizontal smooth pursuit gains, the ratio of eye to target velocities, were 0.84 at 0.25 Hz and 0.73 at 0.5 Hz. Mean vertical smooth pursuit gains were 0.68 at 0.25 Hz and 0.45 at 0.5 Hz. Smooth pursuit gains were significantly lower for vertical in comparison to horizontal tracking, and for 0.5 Hz in comparison to 0.25 Hz tracking (P<0.0001). Smooth pursuit gains increased with age (P<0.01, Pearson’s correlation tests), with horizontal gains attaining reported adult values by mid adolescence. Vertical gains had large variability among participants. The median phase, the time interval between eye and target velocities, varied between 39 and 86 ms. Phase was not influenced by age. We conclude that smooth pursuit gains are lower in children than gains reported in adults. Vertical pursuit gain is significantly lower than horizontal pursuit gain. Gains improve with age and approach adult values in mid adolescence. Children have larger phases than reported adults values indicating that prediction in the smooth pursuit system is less mature in children.

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We thank Drs. M. Eizenman, Mrs. Irit Dror, Mr. Alan Blakeman for their support. We also thank the participants and their families for their time and enthusiasm. Funding: (1) Research training competition award, The Hospital for Sick Children (HSC), (2) KidsAction, (3) Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus Association of Canada, (4) Clinician Scientist training program awards, HSC and Vision Science Research Program at Toronto Western Hospital, (5) Bloorview MacMillan Hospital foundation grants, (MS Salman) (6) NIH grant “Spina bifida: Cognitive and neurobiological variability” (J Fletcher, M Dennis), (7) CIHR of Canada Grants MT5404 and ME 5909 (JA Sharpe), (8) NSERC of Canada A7664, The Sir Jules Thorn Charitable Trust, and the Krembil Family Foundation Grants (MJ Steinbach).

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Correspondence to Michael S. Salman.

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Salman, M.S., Sharpe, J.A., Lillakas, L. et al. Smooth pursuit eye movements in children. Exp Brain Res 169, 139–143 (2006).

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  • Eye movements
  • Smooth pursuit
  • Children
  • Development