Sympathetic control of accommodation: evidence for inter-subject variation

B. Gilmartin*, E.A.H. Mallen, J.S. Wolffsohn

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Autonomic innervation of ciliary smooth muscle is mediated principally by the parasympathetic nervous system and is supplemented by the sympathetic nervous system. Previous drug and nerve stimulation experiments on humans and animals have demonstrated that sympathetic innervation is inhibitory (via β-2 adrenoceptors), relatively small, slow and augmented by concurrent levels of background parasympathetic activity. These characteristics are pertinent to the sympathetic system having a specific role in our ability to adapt successfully to sustained near vision tasks and, given the clear association between near vision and the onset and development of myopia, to a putative aetiological role in myopia development in pre-disposed individuals. A fifth characteristic, namely the variation between individuals in access to an inhibitory sympathetic facility is therefore of particular interest. A novel method for continuous recording of accommodation, currently employed in a large sample longitudinal study of myopia in young adults, was used following topical instillation of non-selective (timolol) and selective (betaxolol) sympathetic β-adrenoceptor antagonists. Measures of post-task accommodative hysteresis were taken with reference to the time-course of regression of accommodation when open-loop (Difference of Gaussian) conditions were immediately imposed following short (10 s) and long (3 min) duration far (0D) and near (3D above tonic level) tasks viewed through a Badal system. Data confirm earlier informal experimental observations that only one in three individuals are likely to have access to a sympathetic inhibitory facility during sustained near vision. © 2002 The College of Optometrists.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)366-371
Number of pages6
JournalOphthalmic and Physiological Optics
Issue number5
Early online date4 Sept 2002
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2002


  • adrenoceptors
  • autonomic nervous system
  • myopia
  • near work


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