Objective To test the hypothesis that the extraocular muscles (EOMs) of patients with infantile nystagmus have muscular and innervational adaptations that may have a role in the involuntary oscillations of the eyes.
Methods Specimens of EOMs from 10 patients with infantile nystagmus and postmortem specimens from 10 control subjects were prepared for histologic examination. The following variables were quantified: mean myofiber cross-sectional area, myofiber central nucleation, myelinated nerve density, nerve fiber density, and neuromuscular junction density.
Results In contrast to control EOMs, infantile nystagmus EOMs had significantly more centrally nucleated myofibers, consistent with cycles of degeneration and regeneration. The EOMs of patients with nystagmus also had a greater degree of heterogeneity in myofiber size than did those of controls, with no difference in mean myofiber cross-sectional area. Mean myelinated nerve density, nerve fiber density, and neuromuscular junction density were also significantly decreased in infantile nystagmus EOMs.
Conclusions The EOMs of patients with infantile nystagmus displayed a distinct hypoinnervated phenotype. This represents the first quantification of changes in central nucleation and myofiber size heterogeneity, as well as decreased myelinated nerve, nerve fiber, and neuromuscular junction density. These results suggest that deficits in motor innervation are a potential basis for the primary loss of motor control.
Clinical Relevance Improved understanding of the etiology of nystagmus may direct future diagnostic and treatment strategies.