A review of the scientific basis and practical application of a new test of utricular function—ocular vestibular-evoked myogenic potentials to bone-conducted vibration

I S Curthoys, L Manzari, Y E Smulders, A M Burgess
Acta Otorhinolaryngologica Italica 2009, 29 (4): 179-86
This is a review of recently published papers showing that bone-conducted vibration of the head causes linear acceleration stimulation of both inner ears and this linear acceleration is an effective way of selectively activating otolithic afferent neurons. This simple stimulus is used in a new test to evaluate clinically the function of the otoliths of the human inner ear. Single neuron studies in animals have shown that semicircular canal neurons are rarely activated by levels of bone-conducted vibration at 500 Hz which generate vigorous firing in otolithic irregular neurons and which result in a variety of vestibulo-spinal and vestibulo-ocular responses, and the latter is the focus of this review. In humans, 500 Hz bone-conducted vibration, delivered at the midline of the forehead, at the hairline (Fz), causes simultaneous and approximately equal amplitude linear acceleration stimulation at both mastoids and results in ocular-evoked myogenic potentials (oVEMPs) beneath both eyes. The first component of this myogenic potential, at a latency to peak of about 10 ms is a negative potential and is called n10 and, in healthy subjects, is equal in amplitude beneath both eyes, but after unilateral vestibular loss, the n10 potential beneath the eye opposite to the lesioned ear is greatly reduced or totally absent. n10 is a myogenic potential due to a crossed otolith-ocular pathway. In patients with total unilateral superior vestibular neuritis, in whom saccular function is largely intact (as shown by the presence of cervical vestibular evoked myogenic potentials (cVEMPs), but utricular function is probably compromised, there is a reduced n10 response beneath the contralesional eye, strongly indicating that n10 is due to utricular otolithic function.

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