L. W. Schultheis and D. A. Robinson showed that the axis of the rotational vestibuloocular reflex (RVOR) cannot be altered by visual-vestibular mismatch ("cross-axis adaptation") when the vestibulocerebellum is lesioned. This suggests that the cerebellum may calibrate the axis of eye velocity of the RVOR under natural conditions. Thus we asked whether patients with cerebellar disease have alterations in the RVOR axis and, if so, what might be the mechanism. We used three-axis scleral coils to record head and eye movements during yaw, pitch, and roll head impulses in 18 patients with cerebellar disease and in a comparison group of eight subjects without neurologic disease. We found distinct shifts of the eye-velocity axis in patients. The characteristic finding was a disconjugate upward eye velocity during yaw. Measured at 70 ms after the onset of head rotation, the median upward gaze velocity was 15% of yaw head velocity for patients and <1% for normal subjects (P < 0.001). Upward eye velocity was greater in the contralateral (abducting) eye during yaw and in the ipsilateral eye during roll. Patients had a higher gain (eye speed/head speed) for downward than for upward pitch (median ratio of downward to upward gain: 1.3). In patients, upward gaze velocities during both yaw and roll correlated with the difference in anterior (AC) and posterior canal excitations, scaled by the respective pitch gains. Our findings support the hypothesis that upward eye velocity during yaw results from AC excitation, which must normally be suppressed by the intact cerebellum.
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