Body position relative to gravity is continuously updated to prevent falls. Therefore, the brain integrates input from the otoliths, truncal graviceptors, proprioception and vision. Without visual cues estimated direction of gravity mainly depends on otolith input and becomes more variable with increasing roll-tilt. Contrary, the discrimination threshold for object orientation shows little modulation with varying roll orientation of the visual stimulus. Providing earth-stationary visual cues, this retinal input may be sufficient to perform self-adjustment tasks successfully, with resulting variability being independent of whole-body roll orientation. We compared conditions with informative (earth-fixed) and non-informative (body-fixed) visual cues. If the brain uses exclusively retinal input (if earth-stationary) to solve the task, trial-to-trial variability will be independent from the subject’s roll orientation. Alternatively, central integration of both retinal (earth-fixed) and extra-retinal inputs will lead to increasing variability when roll-tilted. Subjects, seated on a motorized chair, were instructed to (1) align themselves parallel to an earth-fixed line oriented earth-vertical or roll-tilted 75° clockwise; (2) move a body-fixed line (aligned with the body-longitudinal axis or roll-tilted 75° counter-clockwise to it) by adjusting their body position until the line was perceived earth-vertical. At 75° right-ear-down position, variability increased significantly (p < 0.05) compared to upright in both paradigms, suggesting that, despite the earth-stationary retinal cues, extra-retinal input is integrated. Self-adjustments in the roll-tilted position were significantly (p < 0.01) more precise for earth-fixed cues than for body-fixed cues, underlining the importance of earth-stable visual cues when estimates of gravity become more variable with increasing whole-body roll.
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The authors thank Albert Züger for technical assistance and Itsaso Olasagasti for statistical advice. Alexander A. Tarnutzer was supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation (3200B0-105434), the Betty and David Koetser Foundation for Brain Research, Zurich, Switzerland, and the Center of Integrative Human Physiology, University of Zurich, Switzerland.
Conflict of interest
The authors report no conflict of interest. The funding sources had no involvement in the study design, the collection, analysis and interpretation of the data, the writing of the report or in the decision to submit the paper for publication.
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