For frequencies >10 Hz, the vestibuloocular reflex (VOR) has been primarily investigated during passive rotations of the head on the body in humans. These prior studies suggest that eye movements lag head movements, as predicted by a 7-ms delay in the VOR reflex pathways, However, Minor and colleagues recently applied whole-body rotations of frequencies ≤ 15 Hz in monkeys and found that eye movements were nearly in phase with head motion across all frequencies. The goal of the present study was to determine whether VOR response dynamics actually differ significantly for whole-body versus head-on-body rotations. To address this question, we evaluated the gain and phase of the VOR induced by high-frequency oscillations of the head on the body in monkeys by directly measuring both head and eye movements using the magnetic search coil technique. A torque motor was used to rotate the heads of three Rhesus monkeys over the frequency range 5-25 Hz. Peak head velocity was held constant, first at ±50°/s and then ±100°/s. The VOR was found to be essentially compensatory across all frequencies; gains were near unity (1.1 at 5 Hz vs. 1.2 at 25 Hz), and phase lag increased only slightly with frequency (from 2° at 5 Hz to 11° at 25 Hz, a marked contrast to the 63° lag at 25 Hz predicted by a 7-ms VOR latency). Furthermore, VOR response dynamics were comparable in darkness and when viewing a target and did not vary with peak velocity. Although monkeys offered less resistance to the initial cycles of applied head motion, the gain and phase of the VOR did not vary for early versus late cycles, suggesting that an efference copy of the motor command to the neck musculature did not alter VOR response dynamics. In addition, VOR dynamics were also probed by applying transient head perturbations with much greater accelerations (peak acceleration > 15,000°/s2) than have been previously employed. The VOR latency was between 5 and 6 ms, and mean gain was close to unity for two of the three animals tested. A simple linear model well described the VOR responses elicited by sinusoidal and transient head on body rotations. We conclude that the VOR is compensatory over a wide frequency range in monkeys and has similar response dynamics during passive rotation of the head on body as during passive rotation of the whole body in space.
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