Spontaneous ocular positioning during visual imagery in patients with hemianopia and/or hemineglect.

Neuropsychologia

PubMedID: 27129436

Fourtassi M, Rode G, Tilikete C, Pisella L. Spontaneous ocular positioning during visual imagery in patients with hemianopia and/or hemineglect. Neuropsychologia. 2016;.
Spontaneous eye movements during imagery are not random and can be used to study and reveal mental visualization processes (Fourtassi et al. , 2013; Johansson et al. 2006). For example, we previously showed that during memory recall of French towns via imagery healthy individuals looks straight ahead when recalling Paris and their subsequent gaze positions are significantly correlated with the real GPS coordinates of the recalled towns. This correlation suggests that memory retrieval is done via depictive representations as it is never found when the towns are recalled using verbal fluency. In the present paper we added to this finding by showing that the mental image is spontaneously centered on the head or body midline. In order to investigate the capacities of visual imagery in patients, and by extension, the role of primary visual cortex and fronto-parietal cortex in spatial visual imagery, we recorded gaze positions during memory recall of French towns in an imagery task, a non-imagery task (verbal fluency), and a visually-guided task in five patients with left or right hemianopia and in four patients with hemineglect (two with left hemianopia and two without). The correlation between gaze position and real GPS coordinates of the recalled towns was significant in all hemianopic patients, but in patients with hemineglect this was only the case for towns located on the right half of the map of France. This suggests hemianopic patients can perform spatially consistent mental imagery despite direct or indirect unilateral lesions of the primary visual cortex. In contrast, the left-sided towns recalled by hemineglect patients, revealed that they have some spatial inconsistency or representational difficulty. Hemianopic patients positioned and maintained their gaze in their contralesional hemispace, suggesting that their mental map was not centered on their head or body midline. This contralesional gaze positioning appeared to be a general compensation strategy and was not observed in patients with neglect (with or without hemianopia). Instead, neglect patients positioned their gaze in their ipsilesional hemispace and only when performing the visual imagery task. These findings are discussed in the context of the role of occipital and fronto-parietal cortices in the neuroanatomical model of visual imagery developed by Kosslyn et al. (2006).