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Visual command hallucinations in a patient with pure alexia


Around 25% of patients with visual hallucinations secondary to eye disease report hallucinations of text. The hallucinated text conveys little if any meaning, typically consisting of individual letters, words, or nonsense letter strings (orthographic hallucinations). A patient is described with textual visual hallucinations of a very different linguistic content following bilateral occipito-temporal infarcts. The hallucinations consisted of grammatically correct, meaningful written sentences or phrases, often in the second person and with a threatening and command-like nature (syntacto-semantic visual hallucinations). A detailed phenomenological interview and visual psychophysical testing were undertaken. The patient showed a classical ventral occipito-temporal syndrome with achromatopsia, prosopagnosia, and associative visual agnosia. Of particular significance was the presence of pure alexia. Illusions of colour induced by monochromatic gratings and a novel motion–direction illusion were also observed, both consistent with the residual capacities of the patient’s spared visual cortex. The content of orthographic visual hallucinations matches the known specialisations of an area in the left posterior fusiform gyrus—the visual word form area (VWFA)—suggesting the two are related. The VWFA is unlikely to be responsible for the syntacto-semantic hallucinations described here as the patient had a pure alexic syndrome, a known consequence of VWFA lesions. Syntacto-semantic visual hallucinations may represent a separate category of textual hallucinations related to the cortical network implicated in the auditory hallucinations of schizophrenia.

  • visual hallucinations
  • alexia
  • visual word form area
  • illusion
  • VWFA, visual word form area

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