The Effect of Visual Contrast on Human Vestibulo-Ocular Reflex Adaptation

M. Muntaseer Mahfuz, Michael C. Schubert, Christopher J. Todd, William V.C. Figtree, Serajul I. Khan, Americo A. Migliaccio

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The vestibulo-ocular reflex (VOR) is the main retinal image stabilising mechanism during rapid head movement. When the VOR does not stabilise the world or target image on the retina, retinal image slip occurs generating an error signal that drives the VOR response to increase or decrease until image slip is minimised, i.e. VOR adaptation occurs. Visual target contrast affects the human smooth pursuit and optokinetic reflex responses. We sought to determine if contrast also affected VOR adaptation. We tested 12 normal subjects, each over 16 separate sessions. For sessions 1–14, the ambient light level (lx) during adaptation training was as follows: dark, 0.1, 0.2, 0.3, 0.5, 0.7, 1, 2, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128 and 255 lx (light level for a typical room). For sessions 15–16, the laser target power (related to brightness) was halved with ambient light at 0 and 0.1 lx. The adaptation training lasted 15 min and consisted of left/right active head impulses. The VOR gain was challenged to increment, starting at unity, by 0.1 every 90 s for rotations to the designated adapting side and fixed at unity towards the non-adapting side. We measured active and passive VOR gains before and after adaptation training. We found that for both the active and passive VOR, there was a significant increase in gain only towards the adapting side due to training at contrast level 1.5 k and above (2 lx and below). At contrast level 261 and below (16 lx and above), adaptation training resulted in no difference between adapting and non-adapting side gains. Our modelling suggests that a contrast threshold of ~ 1000, which is 60 times higher than that provided by typical room lighting, must be surpassed for robust active and passive VOR adaptation. Our findings suggest contrast is an important factor for adaptation, which has implication for rehabilitation programs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)113-122
Number of pages10
JournalJARO - Journal of the Association for Research in Otolaryngology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1 2018


  • VOR adaptation
  • VOR and ambient light level
  • VOR and visual contrast
  • VOR rehabilitation
  • VOR training
  • vestibulo-ocular reflex (VOR)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Otorhinolaryngology
  • Sensory Systems


Dive into the research topics of 'The Effect of Visual Contrast on Human Vestibulo-Ocular Reflex Adaptation'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this