Neural processing of gravito-inertial cues in humans. I. Influence of the semicircular canals following post-rotatory tilt

L. H. Zupan, Robert (Bob) Peterka, D. M. Merfeld

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57 Scopus citations


Sensory systems often provide ambiguous information. Integration of various sensory cues is required for the CNS to resolve sensory ambiguity and elicit appropriate responses. The vestibular system includes two types of sensors: the semicircular canals, which measure head rotation, and the otolith organs, which measure gravito-inertial force (GIF), the sum of gravitational force and inertial force due to linear acceleration. According to Einstein's equivalence principle, gravitational force is indistinguishable from inertial force due to linear acceleration. As a consequence, otolith measurements must be supplemented with other sensory information for the CNS to distinguish tilt from translation. The GIF resolution hypothesis states that the CNS estimates gravity and linear acceleration, so that the difference between estimates of gravity and linear acceleration matches the measured GIF. Both otolith and semicircular canal cues influence this estimation of gravity and linear acceleration. The GIF resolution hypothesis predicts that inaccurate estimates of both gravity and linear acceleration can occur due to central interactions of sensory cues. The existence of specific patterns of vestibuloocular reflexes (VOR) related to these inaccurate estimates can be used to test the GIF resolution hypothesis. To investigate this hypothesis, we measured eye movements during two different protocols. In one experiment, eight subjects were rotated at a constant velocity about an earth-vertical axis and then tilted 90°in darkness to one of eight different evenly spaced final orientations, a so-called 'dumping' protocol. Three speeds (200, 100, and 50°/s) and two directions, clockwise (CW) and counterclockwise (CCW), of rotation were tested. In another experiment, four subjects were rotated at a constant velocity (200°/s, CW and CCW) about an earth-horizontal axis and stopped in two different final orientations (nose-up and nose-down), a so-called 'barbecue' protocol. The GIF resolution hypothesis predicts that post-rotatory horizontal VOR eye movements for both protocols should include an 'induced' VOR component, compensatory to an interaural estimate of linear acceleration, even though no true interaural linear acceleration is present. The GIF resolution hypothesis accurately predicted VOR and induced VOR dependence on rotation direction, rotation speed, and head orientation. Alternative hypotheses stating that frequency segregation may discriminate tilt from translation or that the post-rotatory VOR time constant is dependent on head orientation with respect to the GIF direction did not predict the observed VOR for either experimental protocol.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2001-2015
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Neurophysiology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2000


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Neuroscience(all)

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