Rett syndrome: An eye-tracking study of attention and recognition memory

Susan A. Rose, Aleksandra Djukic, Jeffery J. Jankowski, Judith F. Feldman, Iris Fishman, Maria Valicenti-Mcdermott

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

54 Scopus citations


Aim: The aim of this study was to examine attention and recognition memory for faces and patterns in Rett syndrome, a severely disabling neurodevelopmental disorder caused by mutations in the X-linked MECP2 gene. Method: Because Rett syndrome impairs speech and hand use, precluding most neuropsychological testing, the visual paired-comparison paradigm (VPC) was used, together with eye tracking. In the VPC, two identical stimuli are presented for familiarization. On test, the familiar stimulus and a new one are paired, and recognition inferred from preferential looking to the novel target. Attention is measured by looking time, gaze dispersion, and number/length of fixations. Twenty-seven female patients with Rett syndrome (mean age 10y 6mo; SD 6y 8mo, age range 2-22y) from the Rett clinic at a children's hospital were assessed in this study, along with 30 age- and sex-matched typically developing participants (outpatients from the same hospital). Results: Although patients with Rett syndrome showed recognition of both faces and patterns, with novelty scores greater than chance (50%), their performance was significantly poorer than that of the typically developing comparison group. Their attention to both was less mature and marked by a more narrowly focused gaze, with fewer and longer fixations. When inspecting faces, attention to the eyes was similar in both groups; however, patients with Rett syndrome tended to ignore the nose and mouth. Interpretation: This is one of the first studies to characterize attention and memory in individuals with Rett syndrome. Visually based techniques, such as the VPC, open a new avenue for quantifying the cognitive phenotype associated with this syndrome.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)364-371
Number of pages8
JournalDevelopmental Medicine and Child Neurology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2013

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Developmental Neuroscience
  • Clinical Neurology


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