The vestibular system detects motion of the head in space and in turn generates reflexes that are vital for our daily activities. The eye movements produced by the vestibulo-ocular reflex (VOR) play an essential role in stabilizing the visual axis (gaze), while vestibulo-spinal reflexes ensure the maintenance of head and body posture. The neuronal pathways from the vestibular periphery to the cervical spinal cord potentially serve a dual role, since they function to stabilize the head relative to inertial space and could thus contribute to gaze (eye-in-head + head-in-space) and posture stabilization. To date, however, the functional significance of vestibular-neck pathways in alert primates remains a matter of debate. Here we used a vestibular prosthesis to 1) quantify vestibularly-driven head movements in primates, and 2) assess whether these evoked head movements make a significant contribution to gaze as well as postural stabilization. We stimulated electrodes implanted in the horizontal semicircular canal of alert rhesus monkeys, and measured the head and eye movements evoked during a 100ms time period for which the contribution of longer latency voluntary inputs to the neck would be minimal. Our results show that prosthetic stimulation evoked significant head movements with latencies consistent with known vestibulo-spinal pathways. Furthermore, while the evoked head movements were substantially smaller than the coincidently evoked eye movements, they made a significant contribution to gaze stabilization, complementing the VOR to ensure that the appropriate gaze response is achieved. We speculate that analogous compensatory head movements will be evoked when implanted prosthetic devices are transitioned to human patients.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
- Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)