, Volume 81, Issue 3, pp 479-490

The human horizontal vestibulo-ocular reflex in response to high-acceleration stimulation before and after unilateral vestibular neurectomy

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The normal horizontal vestibulo-ocular reflex (HVOR) is largely generated by simultaneous stimulation of the two horizontal semicircular canals (HSCCs). To determine the dynamics of the HVOR when it is generated by only one HSCC, compensatory eye movements in response to a novel vestibular stimulus were measured using magnetic search coils. The vestibular stimulus consisted of low-amplitude, high-acceleration, passive, unpredictable, horizontal rotations of the head with respect to the trunk. While these so called head “impulses” had amplitudes of only 15–20 degrees with peak velocities up to 250 deg/s, they had peak accelerations up to 3000 deg/s/s. Fourteen humans were studied in this way before and after therapeutic unilateral vestibular neurectomy; 10 were studied 1 week or 1 year afterwards; 4 were studied 1 week and 1 year afterwards. The results from these 14 patients were compared with the results from 30 normal control subjects and with the results from one subject with absent vestibular function following bilateral vestibular neurectomy. Compensatory eye rotation in normal subjects closely mirrored head rotation. In contrast there was no compensatory eye rotation in the first 170 ms after the onset of head rotation in the subject without vestibular function. Before unilateral vestibular neurectomy all the patients' eye movement responses were within the normal control range. One week after unilateral vestibular neurectomy however there was a symmetrical bilateral HVOR deficit. The asymmetry was much more profound than has been shown in any previous studies. The HVOR generated in response to head impulses directed away from the intact side largely by ampullofugal disfacilitation from the single intact HSCC (ignoring for the moment the small contribution to the HVOR from stimulation of the vertical SCCs), was severely deficient with an average gain (eye velocity/head velocity) of 0.25 at 122.5 deg/sec head velocity (normal gain=0.94+/−0.08). In contrast the HVOR generated in response to head impulses directed toward the intact side, largely by ampullopetal excitation from the single intact HSCC, was only mildly (but nonetheless significantly) deficient, with an average gain of 0.80 at 122.5 deg/sec head velocity. At these accelerations there was no significant improvement in the average HVOR velocity gain in either direction over the following year. These results indicate that ampullopetal excitation from one HSCC can, even in the absence of ampullofugal disfacilitation from the opposite HSCC, generate a near normal HVOR in response to high-acceleration stimulation. Furthermore, since ampullofugal disfacilitation on its own, can only generate an inadequate HVOR in response to high-acceleration stimulation, it may under some normal circumstances make little contribution to the bilaterally generated HVOR.