Abnormal smooth pursuit eye movements have been found in many schizophrenic patients and in about 40% of their first-degree biological relatives. A velocity discrimination deficit has also been demonstrated in schizophrenic patients. In this study, we address the relation between deficient velocity discrimination and impaired smooth pursuit eye movements, inasmuch as the brain regions responsible for processing velocity signals are implicated in generating and maintaining smooth pursuit.
Horizontal eye movements of 15 schizophrenic patients and 8 normal controls were recorded in response to sine wave (predictable) and step-ramp (nonpredictable) targets. Smooth pursuit eye movements were assessed during both the initiation and maintenance periods. Correlations were computed between measures of smooth pursuit (qualitative rating, peak gain, saccade frequency, and initial acceleration) and contrast sensitivity for velocity discrimination.
Contrast sensitivity for fine velocity discrimination was significantly correlated both with initial acceleration of smooth pursuit and with peak gain, but was not significantly correlated with saccade frequency and qualitative ratings of pursuit integrity. No significant correlations were found within the normal control group.
Deficient processing of velocity information seems to be one component that contributes to a dysfunction in the initiation and maintenance of smooth pursuit in schizophrenia.