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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Recalibration of the vestibular system Law, Tammy Che-Yan


The vestibular system conveys information regarding head motion to the central nervous system (CNS). Independently, this vestibular signal of head motion does not provide an absolute reference of head motion as the frequency coding of the afferent nerves is influenced by adaptation properties and nonlinearities. The optic flow signal of head rotation from the visual system however, is spatially encoded and can function as an absolute reference. The aim of this study was to determine if a visual signal of head rotation can recalibrate an altered vestibular signal of head motion during standing balance and to investigate the underlying mechanisms of this recalibration at the muscular level. Eight healthy subjects were exposed to an electrical vestibular stimulus correlated to head movement (±0.125 mA/°/s) while standing on foam with eyes closed. This velocity-coupled vestibular stimulation (VcVS) was applied in a bipolar, bilateral orientation and depending on its polarity, resulted in the vestibular nerves coding for slower or faster head movements. Initially, this alteration of natural vestibular information destabilized subjects. During the conditioning phase, subjects opened their eyes and used visual information in combination with the new vestibular information to update their representation of self-orientation. Following this, subjects showed a significant decrease (~35%) in body sway while still receiving VcVS. The mechanisms underlying vestibular recalibration were examined by observing how visuo-vestibular recalibration affected the vestibular-evoked muscular responses. Muscle activity was recorded in five subjects using surface electromyography (EMG) bilaterally on the medial gastrocnemius and tensor fascia latae muscles. Stochastic vestibular stimulation (SVS) in combination with VcVS was delivered to evoke biphasic muscular responses. Prior to the conditioning period, the peak amplitude of the response was significantly attenuated and then returned to control levels following conditioning. Overall, these observations indicate that the vestibular system can be recalibrated by a visual signal of head rotation. This process is associated with an initial decrease in vestibular-evoked muscular responses which return to control levels once recalibration occurs. These results suggest that the CNS can modulate vestibular processes by down regulation or selective gating of vestibular signals in order to achieve vestibular recalibration.

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