Coding of velocity storage in the vestibular nuclei

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Semicircular canal afferents sense angular acceleration and output angular velocity with a short time constant of ≈4.5 s. This output is prolonged by a central integrative network, velocity storage that lengthens the time constants of eye velocity. This mechanism utilizes canal, otolith, and visual (optokinetic) information to align the axis of eye velocity toward the spatial vertical when head orientation is off-vertical axis. Previous studies indicated that vestibular-only (VO) and vestibular-pause-saccade (VPS) neurons located in the medial and superior vestibular nucleus could code all aspects of velocity storage. A recently developed technique enabled prolonged recording while animals were rotated and received optokinetic stimulation about a spatial vertical axis while upright, side-down, prone, and supine. Firing rates of 33 VO and 8 VPS neurons were studied in alert cynomolgus monkeys. Majority VO neurons were closely correlated with the horizontal component of velocity storage in head coordinates, regardless of head orientation in space. Approximately, half of all tested neurons (46%) code horizontal component of velocity in head coordinates, while the other half (54%) changed their firing rates as the head was oriented relative to the spatial vertical, coding the horizontal component of eye velocity in spatial coordinates. Some VO neurons only coded the cross-coupled pitch or roll components that move the axis of eye rotation toward the spatial vertical. Sixty-five percent of these VO and VPS neurons were more sensitive to rotation in one direction (predominantly contralateral), providing directional orientation for the subset of VO neurons on either side of the brainstem. This indicates that the three-dimensional velocity storage integrator is composed of directional subsets of neurons that are likely to be the bases for the spatial characteristics of velocity storage. Most VPS neurons ceased firing during drowsiness, but the firing rates of VO neurons were unaffected by states of alertness and declined with the time constant of velocity storage. Thus, the VO neurons are the prime components of the mechanism of coding for velocity storage, whereas the VPS neurons are likely to provide the path from the vestibular to the oculomotor system for the VO neurons.

Original languageEnglish
Article number386
JournalFrontiers in Neurology
Issue numberAUG
StatePublished - 16 Aug 2017


  • Adaptation
  • Gravity
  • Monkey
  • Optokinetic after-nystagmus
  • Spatial orientation
  • Velocity storage
  • Vestibular-only neurons
  • Vestibule-ocular reflex


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