Bilateral conjugacy of movement initiation is retained at the eye but not at the mouth following long-term unilateral facial nerve palsy

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Abstract

Voluntary eyelid closure and smiling were studied in 11 normal subjects and 11 patients with long-term unilateral facial nerve palsy (FNP). The conjugacy of eyelid movements shown previously for blinks was maintained for voluntary eye closures in normal subjects, with movement onset being synchronous in both eyes. Bilateral onset synchrony of the sides of the mouth was also observed in smiling movements in normal subjects. In FNP patients, initiation of movement of the paretic and non-paretic eyelids was also synchronous, but markedly delayed relative to normal (by 136 ms=32%). The initiation of bilateral movements at the mouth was similarly delayed, but in contrast to the eyes, it was not synchronous. Central neural processing in the FNP subjects was normal, however, since unilateral movements at the mouth were not delayed. The delays therefore point to considerable additional information processing needed for initiating bilateral facial movements after FNP. The maintenance of bilateral onset synchrony in eyelid closure and its loss in smiling following FNP is an important difference in the neural control of these facial regions. Bilateral conjugacy of eyelid movements is probably crucial for coordinating visual input and was achieved apparently without conscious effort on the part of the patients. Bilateral conjugacy of movements at the sides of the mouth may be less critical for normal function, although patients would very much like to achieve it in order to improve the appearance of their smile. Since the everyday frequency of eyelid movements is considerably greater than that of smiling, it is possible that the preserved eyelid conjugacy in these patients with long-term FNP is merely a product of greater experience. However, if synchrony of movement onset is found to be preserved in patients with acute FNP, then it would suggest that eyelid conjugacy has a privileged status in the neural organisation of the face.

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