Claudio Busettini headshot.

Associate Professor
Co-Director, Vestibular-Oculomotor Research Clinic

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(205) 934-2601
Office location: HPB 444

Teaching/research interests: Anatomy, physiology and pathology of eye movements to professional and undergraduate/graduate students.

Office hours: By appointment

Education:   

  • MIDN, Naval Academy of Livorno (Italy) Naval Weapon Systems Midshipman
  • Clin Eng, University of Trieste (Italy) Post-graduate Specialization in Clinical Engineering
  • PhD, University of Trieste, (Italy), Biomedical Engineering
  • Dr Eng, University of Trieste (Italy), Electronic Engineering

In 1985, while developing real-time acquisition systems as an electronic engineering student at the University of Trieste, Italy, in the laboratory of Dr. Paolo Inchingolo, Dr. Claudio Busettini discovered the works of Dr. David A. Robinson (1925-2016). An engineer, David was the first to apply rigorous control system modeling to the study of the oculomotor systems. These seminal papers sealed Dr. Busettini’s life interest in eye movements. After concluding his engineering studies and his compulsory military service, in 1989 he joined the laboratory of Dr. Frederick Miles, at the Laboratory of Sensorimotor Research, NEI, NIH, Bethesda, MD. His research explored, in both humans and alert trained non-human primates, the 3-D visual properties of the cortical optokinetic reflex, which also brought to the discovery of an ultra-short-latency vergence stabilization system.

He joined UAB in 1997, initially as a post-doctoral fellow in the laboratory of Dr. Lawrence Mays. His research focus shifted to the neural processes underlying the interactions between the oculomotor systems that occur during eye movements in depth and to the adaptive processes that maintain binocular alignment. Failure of these adaptive processes leads to strabismus. A study on blinks invalidated the classical view of the brainstem omnipause neurons as driving the go-command for blinks and therefore their putative role in several blink abnormalities.

In 2014, together with Dr. James Johnston of Children’s of Alabama, he obtained funding for an advanced clinical vestibular rotating system, key element of the Vestibular-Oculomotor Research Clinic (VOR Clinic) of the UAB School of Optometry ( http://www.emrl.uab.edu ). He is interested in the development of optimal oculomotor, vestibular and postural tests able to detect acute cases of concussion and to follow the patient’s recovery. He is currently working on the design of a long-term study for the search of early signs of cumulative alterations in brain function caused by playing contact sports for several years in collaboration with the UAB Athletic Department.

Dr. Miles and Dr. Mays played a key role in mentoring Dr. Busettini and complementing his engineering skills with the anatomical, physiological and surgical knowledge needed to become an independent investigator working with both humans and alert trained macaque monkeys. He gradually moved through the ranks to the current position of tenured associate professor. For many years, he is the course master of “Eye movements and principles of binocular vision”, a 1st year basic science professional course. Laboratory sessions in the VOR Clinic let students experience firsthand several of the binocular and oculomotor tests described in class in a unique clinical setting.

Download CV

Research interests:

The primate brain has several vestibular and visual oculomotor systems that allow the transfer of gaze between objects of interests, to stabilize the visual scene on the retina while we are moving around in natural 3-D environments, and to track moving objects. For their precisely controllable inputs – the vestibular and/or the visual stimuli - and their precisely defined outputs – the eye rotations – they are the best neural systems to model following standard control theory methodologies. With their tight functional linkage with the semicircular and otolith accelerometric elements in the inner ear and with vision, these systems, some purely reflexive in nature, some requiring complex volitional processes for their execution, have a long history as basic-science tools to explore brain function and as clinical tools for several neurological diseases.

These systems do not work in isolation with respect to each other while, at the same time, the development of each of them followed the evolutionary pressure to bring an object of interest in the fovea and to keep it there inside a specific environmental context. The discovery a new short-latency optokinetic system and some preliminary properties suggested that this visually-driven oculomotor system had properties optimized for the stabilization of the visual scene during translation, with the associated highly complex optical flow. The work at the NIH demonstrated that this was the case, with the proposal of the theory that the cortical optokinetic system is a response to the translational visual challenges associated with the transition of the eyes from the side of the head to the front and to the need of a visual backup to the translational vestibular system. The discovery of a short-latency vergence reflexive response in depth demonstrated that primates have an advanced rapid 3-D visual mechanism to insure rapid stabilization of the images on the retina in complex visual environments.

Primates have binocular vision. We do not see what each of the two eyes see but we perceive a single image that appears coming from a single eye located on the forehead: the cyclopean eye. The oculomotor systems, accordingly, do not control the angle of each eye separately, but as a joked pair. The conjugate systems are wired to rotate both eyes of the same amount in the same direction. You can see them as controlling the angle of the cyclopean eye. The vergence systems are wired to control the angle between the two eyes and are directly responsible for the correct binocular alignment. When we change our gaze from an object to another object in natural 3-D environments, we usually need to activate both conjugate and vergence systems, which elicit powerful cross-interactions. Short-term and long-term adaptive mechanism constantly recalibrate these systems to guarantee optimal performance. Failure of these adaptive processes causes double vision and, in the long-term, strabismus and amblyopia. Dr. Busettini is exploring the underlying neural substrate of these cross-interactions in alert trained macaque monkeys by recording the signals encoded by single neurons involved in these mechanisms.

More recently, the acquisition of an advances clinical vestibular chair and the development of the Vestibular Ocular Research Clinic (VOR Clinic http://www.emrl.uab.edu ) offered the opportunity for Dr. Busettini to expand into the clinical field. A high number of patients with concussion present with oculomotor and postural symptoms like dizziness, double vision and convergence insufficiency. Together with the other members of the VOR Clinic, he is interested in developing oculomotor tests, both on the sidelines and in the clinic, to detect concussive events, and then, by offering quantitative objective data, help in the recovery process. Of particular interest to Dr. Busettini is the development of a long-term study, in collaboration with the UAB Athletic Department, to follow contact-sport and non-contact sport athletes during their college years to search for subtle clinical signs of brain damage associated with repeated sub-clinical head and body collisions.

Recent courses taught:

  • School of Optometry professional course VS 132/VS 132L “Eye Movements and Principles of Binocular Vision”, course master (Download Syllabus)
  • Seminars (4 contact hours) on the anatomy and physiology of the extraocular muscles for the graduate course VIS 744 “Ocular anatomy, physiology, and biochemistry” with Dr. Srivastava course master.
  • Seminars (4 hours) on the oculomotor systems for the graduate course VIS456/756 “Visual Neuroscience” with Dr. Sincich course master.

Academic distinctions and professional societies:   

  • Society for Neuroscience (SfN)
  • The American Physiological Society (APS)
  • Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO)