The relative sparing of visual fixation in parallel with disruption of saccade function in progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP) creates a unique human model for the study of gaze-shift strategies which are adopted when vertical gaze palsy impairs primarily the eye-movement component of gaze control. It was hypothesized that people with PSP would rely on head pitch as a primary component of gaze shift during a platform stepping task and that there would be a predominance of fixation behavior (counter rotation of the eyes during head pitch) while attempting a down-gaze shift. Fourteen subjects with probable and 5 subjects with possible PSP participated in two experiments to measure visual fixation and gaze shift on the same continuum (using a derived vertical gaze fixation score, vGFS). Experiment #1 required gaze fixation during passive head pitch at 0.1-0.2 Hz, whereas experiment #2 required gaze shifts during a continuous platform step on, over, and off task. The primary gaze-shift strategy involved pitching the head downward to compensate for a loss in vertical saccade function. This strategy produced head pitch velocity that leads vertical eye velocity on the order of 200-500 ms. Gaze shifts during platform stepping showed greater fixation suppression (e.g., lower vGFS) in both groups of PSP compared to the visual stabilization task, but some subjects showed "fixation intrusion" during attempted gaze shift. The amount of eye movement was relatively constant when corrected for orbit height, whereas the extent of head pitch varied in proportion to the task demands. The mechanism controlling gaze in PSP, therefore appears to modulate head pitch independently of eye movement, but the gaze strategy seems dependent upon the extent of gaze dysfunction. These findings support the view that the desired gaze signal is parsed into separate eye and head pathways upstream from the burst neurons.
- Progressive supranuclear palsy