Anton–Babinski syndrome, also known as visual anosognosia, is a rare symptom of brain damage occurring in the occipital lobe. Those who have it are cortically blind, but affirm, often quite adamantly and in the face of clear evidence of their blindness, that they are capable of seeing. Failing to accept being blind, people with Anton-Babinski syndrome dismiss evidence of their condition and employ confabulation to fill in the missing sensory input. It is named after Gabriel Anton and Joseph Babinski.
The sudden development of bilateral occipital dysfunction is likely to produce transient physical and psychical effects in which mental confusion may be prominent. It may be some days before the relatives, or the nursing staff, stumble onto the fact that the patient has actually become sightless. This is not only because the patient ordinarily does not volunteer the information that they have become blind, but he furthermore misleads his entourage by behaving and talking as though they were sighted. Attention is aroused however when the patient is found to collide with pieces of furniture, to fall over objects, and to experience difficulty in finding his way around. They may try to walk through a wall or through a closed door on his way from one room to another. Suspicion is still further alerted when they begin to describe people and objects around them which, as a matter of fact, are not there at all.
Anton–Babinski syndrome may be thought of ideally as the opposite of blindsight, blindsight occurring when part of the visual field is not consciously experienced, but some reliable perception does in fact occur.
Why patients with Anton–Babinski syndrome deny their blindness is unknown, although there are many theories. One hypothesis is that damage to the visual cortex results in the inability to communicate with the speech-language areas of the brain. Visual imagery is received but cannot be interpreted; the speech centers of the brain confabulate a response.
This is often seen in immunosuppressed patients with JC virus. Specifically, patients being treated with natalizumab—a monoclonal antibody currently used as a staple in treatment for multiple sclerosis—are quickly becoming classical examples of Anton–Babinski syndrome.
Patients have also reported visual anosognosia after experiencing ischemic vascular cerebral disease. A 96-year-old man, who was admitted to an emergency department complaining of a severe headache and sudden loss of vision, was discovered to have had a posterior cerebral artery thrombosis with consequent loss of vision. He adamantly claimed he was able to see despite an ophthalmologic exam proving otherwise. An MRI of his brain proved that his right occipital lobe was ischemic. Similarly, a 56-year-old woman was admitted to the emergency department in a confused state and with severely handicapped psychomotor skills. Ocular movements and pupil reflexes were still intact, but the patient could not name objects and was not aware of light changes in the room, and seemed unaware of her visual deficit.
Most cases of Anton–Babinski syndrome are reported from adults. The European Journal of Neurology published an article in 2007 that examines a case study of a six-year-old child with Anton–Babinski syndrome and early stages of adrenoleukodystrophy. The child reportedly had abnormal eye movements, would often fall, and would reach for things and often miss his target. When his sight was tested at <20/200 he was still unable to read the large letters on the chart. He denied having headaches, diplopia, or eye pain and seemed unconcerned and unaware of his poor eyesight. Upon examination, his pupils were equal in shape, round, and reactive to light. His mother commented that he developed unusual eye movements and that they had a "roving quality".
In popular culture
Anton–Babinski syndrome was featured in two-part episode of the television series House M.D., titled "Euphoria", although it was ascribed to primary amoebic meningoencephalitis, a disease that usually does not cause the syndrome in real life.
The syndrome is the main theme of Malaysian movie Desolasi (Desolation), where the patients live in their own world of imagination, while unable to see the real world.
- Macdonald Critchley, "Modes of reaction to central blindness", in Critchley, 1979, p. 156
- Prigatano, George P.; Schacter, Daniel L (1991). Awareness of deficit after brain injury: clinical and theoretical issues. Oxford [Oxfordshire]: Oxford University Press. pp. 53–60. ISBN 0-19-505941-7.
- Trifiletti, R. R.; Syed, E. H. (2007). "Anton-Babinski Syndrome in a Child with Early-stage Adrenoleukodystrophy". 14 (2). European Journal of Neurology.
- Critchley, Macdonald, The Divine Banquet of the Brain, Raven, New York, 1979[ISBN missing]