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Brain. 1998 Dec;121 ( Pt 12):2357-67.

Space exploration in neglect.

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Department of Neurology, University of Tübingen, Germany.


The present study investigated the gaze as well as the head and the eye-in-head movements of neglect patients while they were exploring their surroundings. A random configuration of letters was presented on the inner surface of a sphere that surrounded the subject, requiring free exploratory eye and head movements. The subjects were requested to search for a single (non-existent) target letter. The co-ordination of eye and head movements in patients with neglect resembled the pattern usually observed in healthy subjects orienting to eccentric visual targets. They performed hypometric head movements with additional shifts of eye-in-head position. Moreover, like healthy subjects, the patients with neglect explored space with gaze, with head and eye-in-head movements that were symmetrically distributed around preferred orientations in space. However, in contrast to controls, these centres of exploration were shifted towards the right. The average horizontal position of gaze and of head movements lay right of the body's mid-sagittal plane, the average eye-in-head position right of the head midline. The preferred orientations were located far away from the anatomical limits of horizontal gaze, head and eye-in-head movements. The decrease of exploration towards more eccentric locations left and right of these orientations thus could not be explained by anatomical restrictions. The results argue against a model of neglect that proposes a lateral gradient of attentional orienting towards the ipsilesional side. Exploring the surroundings, the patients did not orient gaze, the head or the eyes in the head towards the extreme ipsilesional side, nor even close to it. The results favour a deviation model suggesting a shift of the whole frame for exploratory behaviour towards the ipsilesional side. In addition to this shift, we found a second component of altered visual exploration in neglect. The patients' head and gaze movements exhibited a reduced variability around the deviated centre of exploration. The variability was not generally reduced but rather concerned specifically the horizontal dimension. The latter was found even when the area of exploration was paralleled between the groups, requiring the control subjects to search only in that part of the letter array that the neglect patients had explored spontaneously. Possible mechanisms, such as a disturbed ability to update the spatial representation of visual targets or an altered neural representation of space in the horizontal dimension, are discussed.

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