Horizontal vestibulo-ocular reflex dynamics in acute vestibular neuritis and viral labyrinthitis: evidence of otolith-canal interaction

Raphaël Maire, Guy Van Melle
Acta Oto-laryngologica 2004, 124 (1): 36-40

OBJECTIVE: To evaluate the dynamic properties of the horizontal vestibulo-ocular reflex (h-VOR) in the acute stage of two common labyrinthine diseases that provoke severe attacks of vertigo with spontaneous nystagmus: vestibular neuritis (vestibular loss alone) and viral labyrinthitis (cochleovestibular loss).

MATERIAL AND METHODS: Sixty-three patients were investigated: 42 were diagnosed with vestibular neuritis and 21 with viral labyrinthitis. The h-VOR function was evaluated by conventional caloric and impulsive testing. A simplified model of vestibular function was used to analyze the vestibulo-ocular response to rotational stimulation.

RESULTS: The results showed a significant difference in h-VOR characteristics between the two pathologies. Patients with vestibular neuritis exhibited a strong horizontal semicircular canal deficit, but no h-VOR asymmetry between the two rotational directions. In contrast, patients with viral labyrinthitis demonstrated moderate canal paresis and a marked h-VOR deficit in rotation toward the affected ear.

CONCLUSION: These findings support the hypothesis that the h-VOR dynamic asymmetry that occurs after an acute unilateral inner ear lesion is not due to canal dysfunction alone, but involves complex adaptive changes in the central VOR that may implicate the otolith system. Based on histopathologic and clinical differences in the two pathologies reported in the literature, we postulate that this otolith-canal interaction is mainly linked to the loss of saccular function.

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