Oculomotor studies of cerebellar function in autism

Caralynn V. Nowinski, Nancy J. Minshew, Beatriz Luna, Yukari Takarae, John A. Sweeney

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations


Histopathological, neuroimaging and genetic findings indicate cerebellar abnormalities in autism, but the extent of neurophysiological dysfunction associated with those findings has not been systematically examined. Suppression of intrusive saccades (square wave jerks) and the ability to sustain eccentric gaze, two phenomena requiring intact cerebellar function, were examined in 52 high-functioning individuals with autism and 52 age- and IQ-matched healthy subjects during visual fixation of static central and peripheral targets. Rates of intrusive saccades were not increased in autism during visual fixation, and foveopetal ocular drift was also not increased when subjects held an eccentric gaze. The absence of gross disturbances of visual fixation associated with cerebellar disease in individuals with autism, such as increased square wave jerk rates and foveopetal drift when holding eccentric gaze, indicates that the functional integrity of cerebellar-brainstem networks devoted to oculomotor control is preserved in autism despite reported anatomic variations. However, increased amplitude of intrusive saccades and reduced latency of target refixation after intrusive saccades were observed in individuals with autism, especially when subjects maintained fixation of remembered target locations without sensory guidance. The atypical metrics of intrusive saccades that were observed may be attributable to faulty functional connectivity in cortico-cerebellar networks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)11-19
Number of pages9
JournalPsychiatry research
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Nov 15 2005


  • Cerebellum
  • Developmental disabilities
  • Eye movements
  • Motor control
  • Saccades

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry


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