An implanted vestibular prosthesis improves spatial orientation in animals with severe vestibulardamage

Faisal Karmali, Csilla Haburcakova, Wangsong Gong, Charles C. Della Santina, Daniel M. Merfeld, Richard F. Lewis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Gravity is a pervasive environmental stimulus, and accurate graviception is required for optimal spatial orientation and postural stability. The primary graviceptors are the vestibular organs, which include angular velocity (semicircular canals) and linear acceleration (otolith organs) sensors. Graviception is degraded in patients with vestibular damage, resulting in spatial misperception and imbalance. Since minimal therapy is available for these patients, substantial effort has focused on developing a vestibular prosthesis or vestibular implant (VI) that reproduces information normally provided by the canals (since reproducing otolith function is very challenging technically). Prior studies demonstrated that angular eye velocity responses could be driven by canal VI-mediated angular head velocity information, but it remains unknown whether a canal VI could improve spatial perception and posture since these behaviors require accurate estimates of angular head position in space relative to gravity. Here, we tested the hypothesis that a canal VI that transduces angular head velocity and provides this information to the brain via motion-modulated electrical stimulation of canal afferent nerves could improve the perception of angular head position relative to gravity in monkeys with severe vestibular damage. Using a subjective visual vertical task, we found that normal female monkeys accurately sensed the orientation of the head relative to gravity during dynamic tilts, that this ability was degraded following bilateral vestibular damage, and improved when the canal VI was used. These results demonstrate that a canal VI can improve graviception in vestibulopathic animals, suggesting that it could reduce the disabling perceptual and postural deficits experienced by patients with severe vestibular damage.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3879-3888
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number17
StatePublished - Apr 28 2021


  • Implant
  • Perception
  • Prosthesis
  • Spatial orientation
  • Spatial orientation
  • Vestibular nerve

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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