Eye reflexes "hold clue to Down syndrome"

Eye reflexes "hold clue to Down syndrome"

Every year, thousands of babies are born with Down syndrome, but scientists know relatively little about the condition in terms of how it develops and progresses.

However, a new study has shed some light on why those with Down syndrome often have poor balance and motor coordination.

According to University of Colorado School of Medicine researcher Dr Alberto Costa, the reason is key eye reflexes that are substantially altered.

He now claims that the findings, published in the journal Experimental Brain Research, could lead to new tools being developed to assess the effectiveness of new drugs, as well therapies that can improve quality of life for those with the condition.

The expert explained that people with Down syndrome suffer various degrees of motor difficulty and tend to walk later than their typical peers, often lacking balance as well as having low muscle tone and poor postural control.

Dr Costa said that this is due to the syndrome affecting the optokinetic and vestibular systems of the brain, with the vestibular system reacting slower to signals from neuroreceptors in the inner ear which produce responses to head movements.

In his study, the expert focus on the cerebellum, which is responsible for balance, posture and movement control.

After studying 32 participants between the ages of 14 and 36 using special binocular goggles to measure eye movements in response to visual and vestibular stimuli, Dr Costa made an interesting discovery.

"We found that people with Down syndrome had much diminished optokinetic and vestibular reflexes compared to typically developing individuals. As a consequence, it is likely that things may appear blurry when they ride a bike or play sports," he added.

As Alzheimer"s patients suffer similar declines to those with Down syndrome, it may eventually be possible to use the same drugs to treat both, he claimed, adding that more research needs to be done before this is possible, however. 

by Emily Tait

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