Author(s): Gainotti G, Giustolisi L, Nocentini U
To explain the prevalence of unilateral spatial neglect in patients with right brain damage, Heilman et al have suggested that the attentional neurons of the right parietal lobe might have bilateral receptive fields, whereas the homologous cells of the left hemisphere would have strictly contralateral receptive fields. One implication of this theory is that patients with right brain damage should show a prevalence of disorders of visual attention not only in the half space contralateral to the damaged hemisphere, but also in the ipsilateral one. To check this theory, 50 control subjects, 102 right and 125 left brain-damaged patients were given a drawing completion task in which patients were requested to complete the missing parts of a star, a cube and a house. Omissions of lines lying on the sides of the models contralateral and ipsilateral to the damaged hemisphere were taken separately into account. Results did not confirm the hypothesis, since right brain-damaged patients failed to complete the contralateral sides of the models much more frequently than patients with left brain injury, but no difference was found between the two hemispheric groups when ipsilateral disorders of visual attention were taken into account. Furthermore, no correlation was found between omissions of lines lying on the sides of the models contralateral and ipsilateral to the damaged hemisphere. This finding suggests that contralateral and ipsilateral disorders of visual attention are not due to the same mechanism in right brain-damaged patients. The alternative hypothesis viewing ipsilateral disorders as resulting from a widespread lowering of general attention (and only contralateral neglect reflecting a specific disorder of visual attention) was supported by results obtained on a verbal memory test, used to evaluate the general cognitive and attention level of the patients. Patients with clear-cut ipislateral inattention obtained very low scores on this test, whereas patients with severe contralateral neglect, but not ipislateral inattention scored within the normal range on the verbal memory test.