Pharmacological treatment effects on eye movement control

James L. Reilly*, Rebekka Lencer, Jeffrey R. Bishop, Sarah Keedy, John A. Sweeney

*Corresponding author for this work
145 Citations (Scopus)


The increasing use of eye movement paradigms to assess the functional integrity of brain systems involved in sensorimotor and cognitive processing in clinical disorders requires greater attention to effects of pharmacological treatments on these systems. This is needed to better differentiate disease and medication effects in clinical samples, to learn about neurochemical systems relevant for identified disturbances, and to facilitate identification of oculomotor biomarkers of pharmacological effects. In this review, studies of pharmacologic treatment effects on eye movements in healthy individuals are summarized and the sensitivity of eye movements to a variety of pharmacological manipulations is established. Primary findings from these studies of healthy individuals involving mainly acute effects indicate that: (i) the most consistent finding across several classes of drugs, including benzodiazepines, first- and second- generation antipsychotics, anticholinergic agents, and anticonvulsant/mood stabilizing medications is a decrease in saccade and smooth pursuit velocity (or increase in saccades during pursuit); (ii) these oculomotor effects largely reflect the general sedating effects of these medications on central nervous system functioning and are often dose-dependent; (iii) in many cases changes in oculomotor functioning are more sensitive indicators of pharmacological effects than other measures; and (iv) other agents, including the antidepressant class of serotonergic reuptake inhibitors, direct serotonergic agonists, and stimulants including amphetamine and nicotine, do not appear to adversely impact oculomotor functions in healthy individuals and may well enhance aspects of saccade and pursuit performance. Pharmacological treatment effects on eye movements across several clinical disorders including schizophrenia, affective disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, Parkinson's disease, and Huntington's disease are also reviewed. While greater recognition and investigation into pharmacological treatment effects in these disorders is needed, both beneficial and adverse drug effects are identified. This raises the important caveat for oculomotor studies of neuropsychiatric disorders that performance differences from healthy individuals cannot be attributed to illness effects alone. In final sections of this review, studies are presented that illustrate the utility of eye movements for use as potential biomarkers in pharmacodynamic and pharmacogenetic studies. While more systematic studies are needed, we conclude that eye movement measurements hold significant promise as tools to investigate treatment effects on cognitive and sensorimotor processes in clinical populations and that their use may be helpful in speeding the drug development pathway for drugs targeting specific neural systems and in individualizing pharmacological treatments.

Original languageEnglish
JournalBrain and Cognition
Issue number3
Pages (from-to)415-435
Number of pages21
Publication statusPublished - 12.2008

Research Areas and Centers

  • Academic Focus: Center for Brain, Behavior and Metabolism (CBBM)


Dive into the research topics of 'Pharmacological treatment effects on eye movement control'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this