Neural mechanisms underlying high-frequency vestibulocollic reflexes in humans and monkeys

Patrick A. Forbes, Annie Kwan, X. Brandon G. Rasman, Diana E. Mitchell, X. Kathleen E. Cullen, Jean Sébastien Blouin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The vestibulocollic reflex is a compensatory response that stabilizes the head in space. During everyday activities, this stabilizing response is evoked by head movements that typically span frequencies from 0 to 30 Hz. Transient head impacts, however, can elicit head movements with frequency content up to 300 – 400 Hz, raising the question whether vestibular pathways contribute to head stabilization at such high frequencies. Here, we first established that electrical vestibular stimulation modulates human neck motor unit (MU) activity at sinusoidal frequencies up to 300 Hz, but that sensitivity increases with frequency up to a low-pass cutoff of ~70 – 80 Hz. To examine the neural substrates underlying the low-pass dynamics of vestibulocollic reflexes, we then recorded vestibular afferent responses to the same electrical stimuli in monkeys. Vestibular afferents also responded to electrical stimuli up to 300 Hz, but in contrast to MUs their sensitivity increased with frequency up to the afferent resting firing rate (~100 –150 Hz) and at higher frequencies afferents tended to phase-lock to the vestibular stimulus. This latter nonlinearity, however, was not transmitted to neck motoneurons, which instead showed minimal phase-locking that decreased at frequencies >75 Hz. Similar to human data, we validated that monkey muscle activity also exhibited low-pass filtered vestibulocollic reflex dynamics. Together, our results show that neck MUs are activated by high-frequency signals encoded by primary vestibular afferents, but undergo low-pass filtering at intermediate stages in the vestibulocollic reflex. These high-frequency contributions to vestibular-evoked neck muscle responses could stabilize the head during unexpected head transients.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1874-1887
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number9
StatePublished - Feb 26 2020


  • High frequency
  • Human
  • Neck motor units
  • Non-human primates
  • Vestibular afferents
  • Vestibulocollic reflex

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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