The contribution of the vertical semicircular canals to high-velocity horizontal vestibulo-ocular reflex (VOR) in normal subjects and patients with unilateral vestibular nerve section

R J Tusa, M P Grant, U W Buettner, S J Herdman, D S Zee
Acta Oto-laryngologica 1996, 116 (4): 507-12
We have examined to what extent the vertical semicircular canals contribute to the nonlinearity of the horizontal VOR imposed by the driving of primary vestibular afferents into inhibitory cutoff at high velocities of head rotation (Ewald's second law). The gain (eye velocity/head velocity) of the horizontal component of the VOR with the head pitched down 30 degrees and pitched up 30 degrees was examined during constant-velocity rotations in normal subjects and patients following unilateral vestibular nerve section. In normal subjects, VOR gain decreases as chair velocity increases from 60-300 degrees/s when the head is pitched up, but VOR gain remains constant when the head is pitched down. This finding implies that the mechanism by which the gain of the horizontal VOR gain remains constant at all velocities of rotation depends upon the pattern of labyrinthine stimulation. Following unilateral nerve section, we found that the directional preponderance (DP) in horizontal VOR depends upon whether the head is pitched up 30 (mean asymmetry = 5%) or pitched down 30 degrees (mean asymmetry = 20%). This is what is expected based on the degree to which the lateral and vertical semicircular canals sense horizontal head acceleration with the head in different degrees of pitch. Hence, following unilateral vestibular lesions, the DP of horizontal VOR gain is most easily elicited at high velocities of head rotation and with the head pitched down 30 degrees. Evidence for DP at the bedside using the "head-shaking nystagmus" technique may be optimally elicited with the head pitched down 30 degrees.

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