The corneal and blink reflexes were evaluated in 20 normal subjects and in 30 patients with motor deficits secondary to unilateral hemispheral lesions of vascular origin. In the normal population there were no differences between subjects below and subjects above 50 years of age. In the patients the reflex evoked by electrical stimulation of the cornea of the clinically affected side was depressed in 24 out of 30 cases. The depression mainly affected the afferent branch of the circuit, which triggers both homolateral and contralateral orbicularis oculi discharge (afferent abnormality). In three cases the depression was exerted concomitantly on the efferent branch (afferent and efferent abnormality) and only in one case was it limited to the efferent branch (efferent abnormality). The late R2 component of the blink reflex was depressed in 15 out of 30 patients. The early R1 component was slightly facilitated on the affected side. The changes of the corneal reflex and of the R2 component of blink reflex were similar, but the blink reflex had a greater safety factor. The patients with an abnormal corneal reflex had more extensive damage than had the patients with normal corneal response, as shown by computer tomography, but the site of the lesion was comparable in the two groups. Conduction through the brain stem circuits mediating the orbicularis oculi response is normally under pyramidal facilitatory influences while facial motoneurons are subjected to pyramidal inhibition. After pyramidal damage the transmission of impulses in the brain stem was slowed down, ultimately to a degree that abolished the reflex. Removal of pyramidal inhibition on facial motoneurons is probably the basis of the slight facilitation of the R1 component of the blink reflex.
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