Experimental Brain Research

, Volume 73, Issue 1, pp 91-105

Eye movements induced by off-vertical axis rotation (OVAR) at small angles of tilt

  • C. DarlotAffiliated withLaboratoire de Physiologie Neurosensorielle du CNRS
  • , P. DeniseAffiliated withLaboratoire de Physiologie Neurosensorielle du CNRS
  • , J. DroulezAffiliated withLaboratoire de Physiologie Neurosensorielle du CNRS
  • , B. CohenAffiliated withDepartments of Neurology and Physiology, Mount Sinai School of Medicine
  • , A. BerthozAffiliated withLaboratoire de Physiologie Neurosensorielle du CNRS

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Off-vertical rotation (OVAR) in darkness induced continuous horizontal nystagmus in humans at small tilts of the rotation axis (5 to 30 degrees). The horizontal slow eye velocity had two components: a mean velocity in the direction opposite to head rotation and a sinusoidal modulation around the mean. Mean velocity generally did not exceed 10 deg/s, and was less than or equal to the maximum velocity of optokinetic after-nystagmus (OKAN). Both the mean and modulation components of horizontal nystagmus increased with tilt angle and rotational velocity. Vertical slow eye velocity was also modulated sinusoidally, generally around zero. The amplitude of the vertical modulation increased with tilt angle, but not with rotational velocity. In addition to modulations in eye velocity, there were also modulations in horizontal and vertical eye positions. These would partially compensate for head position changes in the yaw and pitch planes during each cycle of OVAR. Modulations in vertical eye position were regular, increased with increases in tilt angle and were separated from eye velocity by 90 deg. These results are compatible with the interpretation that, during OVAR, mean slow velocity of horizontal nystagmus is produced by the velocity storage mechanism in the vestibular system. In addition, they indicate that the otolith organs induce compensatory eye position changes with regard to gravity for tilts in the pitch, yaw and probably also the roll planes. Such compensatory changes could be utilized to study the function of the otolith organs. A functional interpretation of these results is that nystagmus attempts to stabilize the image on the retina of one point of the surrounding world. Mean horizontal velocity would then be opposite to the estimate of head rotational velocity provided by the output of the velocity storage mechanism, as charged by an otolithic input during OVAR. In spite of the lack of actual translation, an estimate of head translational velocity could, in this condition, be constructed from the otolithic signal. The modulation in horizontal eye position would then be compensatory for the perceived head translation. Modulation of vertical eye velocity would compensate for actual changes in head orientation with respect to gravity.

Key words

Otolith Nystagmus Labyrinth Eye movements Velocity storage mechanism