One of the signs of the cerebellar ocular motor syndrome is the inability to maintain horizontal and vertical fixation. Typically, in the presence of cerebellar atrophy, the eyes show horizontal gaze-evoked and vertical downbeat nystagmus. We investigated whether or not the cerebellar ocular motor syndrome also includes a torsional drift and, specifically, if it is independent from the drift in the horizontal-vertical plane. The existence of such a torsional drift would suggest that the cerebellum is critically involved in maintaining the eyes in Listing's plane. Eighteen patients with cerebellar atrophy (diagnosis confirmed by magnetic resonance imaging) were tested and compared with a group of normal subjects. Three- dimensional eye movements (horizontal, vertical, and torsional) during attempted fixations of targets at different horizontal and vertical eccentricities were recorded by dual search coils in a three-field magnetic frame. The overall ocular drift was composed of an upward drift that increased during lateral gaze, a horizontal centripetal drift that appeared during lateral gaze, and a torsional drift that depended on horizontal eye position. The vertical drift consisted of two subcomponents: a vertical gaze- evoked drift and a constant vertical velocity bias. The increase of upward drift velocity with eccentric horizontal gaze was caused by an increase of the vertical velocity bias; this component did not comply with Listing's law. The horizontal-eye-position-dependent torsional drift was intorsional in abduction and extorsional in adduction, which led to an additional violation of Listing's law. The existence of torsional drift that is eye-position- dependent suggests that the cerebellum is critically involved in the implementation of Listing's law, perhaps by mapping a tonic torsional signal that depends on the direction of the line of sight. The magnitude of this signal might reflect the difference in torsional eye position between the torsional resting position determined by the mechanics of the eye plant and the torsional position required by Listing's law.
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