A caloric stimulus evokes primarily a horizontal vestibulo-ocular reflex (VOR) when subjects are in a supine or prone orientation with the horizontal semicircular canal plane oriented vertically. In both monkeys and humans, the magnitude of VOR eye movements is greater in the supine than in the prone orientation, indicating that some factor or factors, other than the conventionally accepted convective stimulation of the horizontal canals, contributes to the generation of the VOR. We used long-duration caloric irrigations and mathematical models of canal-otolith interactions to investigate factors contributing to the prone/supine asymmetry. Binaural caloric irrigations were applied for 7.5 or 9.5 min with subjects in a null orientation with horizontal canals in the earth-horizontal plane (control trial), or with the subject's pitch orientation periodically changing between null, supine, and prone positions with each orientation held for 30 s (caloric step trial). The control trial responses identified a small response attributable to a direct thermal effect on vestibular afferent activity that accounted for only 15% of the observed prone/supine asymmetry. We show that the gravito-inertial force resolution hypothesis for sensory integration of canal and otolith information predicts that the central processing of canal and otolith information produces an internal estimate of motion that includes both a rotational motion component and a linear acceleration component. These components evoke a horizontal angular VOR and linear VOR, which combine additively in the supine orientation, but subtract in the prone orientation, thus accounting for the majority of the observed prone/supine asymmetry.
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