The relation of motion sickness to the spatial-temporal properties of velocity storage

Mingjia Dai, Mikhail Kunin, Theodore Raphan, Bernard Cohen

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Tilting the head in roll to or from the upright while rotating at a constant velocity (roll while rotating, RWR) alters the position of the semicircular canals relative to the axis of rotation. This produces vertical and horizontal nystagmus, disorientation, vertigo, and nausea. With recurrent exposure, subjects habituate and can make more head movements before experiencing overpowering motion sickness. We questioned whether promethazine lessened the vertigo or delayed the habituation, whether habituation of the vertigo was related to the central vestibular time constant, i.e., to the time constant of velocity storage, and whether the severity of the motion sickness was related to deviation of the axis of eye velocity from gravity. Sixteen subjects received promethazine and placebo in a double-blind, crossover study in two consecutive 4-day test series 1 month apart, termed series I and II. Horizontal and vertical eye movements were recorded with video-oculography while subjects performed roll head movements of approx. 45° over 2 s to and from the upright position while being rotated at 138°/s around a vertical axis. Motion sickness was scaled from 1 (no sickness) to an endpoint of 20, at which time the subject was too sick to continue or was about to vomit. Habituation was determined by the number of head movements that subjects made before reaching the maximum motion sickness score of 20. Head movements increased steadily in each session with repeated testing, and there was no difference between the number of head movements made by the promethazine and placebo groups. Horizontal and vertical angular vestibulo-ocular reflex (aVOR) time constants declined in each test, with the declines being closely correlated to the increase in the number of head movements. The strength of vertiginous sensation was associated with the amount of deviation of the axis of eye velocity from gravity; the larger the deviation of the eye velocity axis from gravity, the more severe the motion sickness. Thus, promethazine neither reduced the nausea associated with RWR, nor retarded or hastened habituation. The inverse relationship between the aVOR time constants and number of head movements to motion sickness, and the association of the severity of motion sickness with the extent, strength, and time of deviation of eye velocity from gravity supports the postulate that the spatiotemporal properties of velocity storage, which are processed between the nodulus and uvula of the vestibulocerebellum and the vestibular nuclei, are likely to represent the source of the conflict responsible for producing motion sickness.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)173-189
Number of pages17
JournalExperimental Brain Research
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jul 2003


  • Adaptation
  • Habituation
  • Motion sickness
  • Nystagmus
  • Promethazine
  • Spatial orientation
  • Velocity storage
  • Vestibular


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