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Acta Ophthalmol Scand. 2007 Nov;85(7):711-23.

Strabismus and eye muscle function.

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Department of Ophthalmology, Karolinska Institutet, St Erik's Eye Hospital, Bernadotte Laboratories, Stockholm, Sweden.


Studies of external eye muscle morphology and physiology are reviewed, with respect to both motor and sensory functions in concomitant strabismus. The eye muscles have a more complex fibre composition than other striated muscle, and they are among the fastest and most fatigue-resistant muscles in the body. However, it is not generally believed that concomitant strabismus is due to a primary abnormality of the eye muscles or the ocular motor system. The gross anatomy of eye muscles, including the shape and position of the eye muscle pulleys, was not changed in strabismus. The histology of the eye muscle fibres was also basically the same, but changes have been observed in the cellular and biochemical machinery of the fibres, most notably in the singly innervated orbital fibres. Functionally, this was seen as slower contractions and reduced fatigue resistance of eye muscles in animals with strabismus and defects of binocular vision. Most likely the changes represented an adaptation to modified visual demands on the ocular motor control, because of the defects of binocular vision in strabismus from an early age. Adaptation of eye muscle function to visual demands could be seen also in the adult human ocular motor system, but here the effects could be reversed with treatment in some conditions. External eye muscles in the human have sensory organs, muscle spindles and tendon organs, responding to changes in muscle force and length. It is not known how these proprioceptors are used more specifically in ocular motor control, and there is no stretch reflex in the external eye muscles. However, a clear influence on space localization and eye position can be demonstrated with vibratory stimulation of the eye muscles, presumably activating muscle spindles. Different effects were observed in normal subjects and in adult patients with strabismus, which would indicate that the proprioceptive input from one eye of strabismic patients could be suppressed by the other eye, similar to visual suppression in concomitant strabismus. Such an interaction would most likely occur in the visual cortex, and not in the ocular motor system. Further studies of proprioceptive mechanisms, during the postnatal developmental stage and in adult concomitant strabismus may shed light on the mechanisms of childhood strabismus and may, in this respect, be a more fruitful avenue for further research than eye motor studies.

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