Directional Plasticity Rapidly Improves 3D Vestibulo-Ocular Reflex Alignment in Monkeys Using a Multichannel Vestibular Prosthesis
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Bilateral loss of vestibular sensation can be disabling. We have shown that a multichannel vestibular prosthesis (MVP) can partly restore vestibular sensation as evidenced by improvements in the 3-dimensional angular vestibulo-ocular reflex (3D VOR). However, a key challenge is to minimize misalignment between the axes of eye and head rotation, which is apparently caused by current spread beyond each electrode’s targeted nerve branch. We recently reported that rodents wearing a MVP markedly improve 3D VOR alignment during the first week after MVP activation, probably through the same central nervous system adaptive mechanisms that mediate cross-axis adaptation over time in normal individuals wearing prisms that cause visual scene movement about an axis different than the axis of head rotation. We hypothesized that rhesus monkeys would exhibit similar improvements with continuous prosthetic stimulation over time. We created bilateral vestibular deficiency in four rhesus monkeys via intratympanic injection of gentamicin. A MVP was mounted to the cranium, and eye movements in response to whole-body passive rotation in darkness were measured repeatedly over 1 week of continuous head motion-modulated prosthetic electrical stimulation. 3D VOR responses to whole-body rotations about each semicircular canal axis were measured on days 1, 3, and 7 of chronic stimulation. Horizontal VOR gain during 1 Hz, 50 °/s peak whole-body rotations before the prosthesis was turned on was <0.1, which is profoundly below normal (0.94 ± 0.12). On stimulation day 1, VOR gain was 0.4–0.8, but the axis of observed eye movements aligned poorly with head rotation (misalignment range ∼30–40 °). Substantial improvement of axis misalignment was observed after 7 days of continuous motion-modulated prosthetic stimulation under normal diurnal lighting. Similar improvements were noted for all animals, all three axes of rotation tested, for all sinusoidal frequencies tested (0.05–5 Hz), and for high-acceleration transient rotations. VOR asymmetry changes did not reach statistical significance, although they did trend toward slight improvement over time. Prior studies had already shown that directional plasticity reduces misalignment when a subject with normal labyrinths views abnormal visual scene movement. Our results show that the converse is also true: individuals receiving misoriented vestibular sensation under normal viewing conditions rapidly adapt to restore a well-aligned 3D VOR. Considering the similarity of VOR physiology across primate species, similar effects are likely to occur in humans using a MVP to treat bilateral vestibular deficiency.
Keywordsvestibular nerve vestibular prosthesis vestibular implant vestibulo-ocular reflex VOR labyrinth bilateral vestibular deficiency adaptation electrical stimulation
We thank Lani Swarthout for assistance with animal care. This work was funded by NIH NIDCD grants R01DC009255, R01DC2390, and 5F32DC009917. CDS, GYF, and BC are inventors on pending and awarded patents relevant to prosthesis technology, and CDS is the CEO of and holds an equity interest in Labyrinth Devices LLC. We thank Lani Swarthout for assistance with animal care and Roland Hessler and Frank Risi for assistance with electrode array fabrication. The terms of these arrangements are being managed by the Johns Hopkins University in accordance with its conflict of interest policies.
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