Vestibular, locomotor, and vestibulo-autonomic research: 50 years of collaboration with Bernard Cohen

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.-My collaboration on the vestibulo-ocular reflex with Bernard Cohen began in 1972. Until 2017, this collaboration included studies of saccades, quick phases of nystagmus, the introduction of the concept of velocity storage, the relationship of velocity storage to motion sickness, primate and human locomotion, and studies of vasovagal syncope. These studies have elucidated the functioning of the vestibuloocular reflex, the locomotor system, the functioning of the vestibulo-sympathetic reflex, and how blood pressure and heart rate are controlled by the vestibular system. Although it is virtually impossible to review all the contributions in detail in a single paper, this article traces a thread of modeling that I brought to the collaboration, which, coupled with Bernie Cohen's expertise in vestibular and sensory-motor physiology and clinical insights, has broadened our understanding of the role of the vestibular system in a wide range of sensory-motor systems. Specifically, the paper traces how the concept of a relaxation oscillator was used to model the slow and rapid phases of ocular nystagmus. Velocity information that drives the slow compensatory eye movements was used to activate the saccadic system that resets the eyes, giving rise to the relaxation oscillator properties and simulated nystagmus as well as predicting the types of unit activity that generated saccades and nystagmic beats. The slow compensatory component of ocular nystagmus was studied in depth and gave rise to the idea that there was a velocity storage mechanism or integrator that not only is a focus for visual-vestibular interaction but also codes spatial orientation relative to gravity as referenced by the otoliths. Velocity storage also contributes to motion sickness when there are visual-vestibular as well as orientation mismatches in velocity storage. The relaxation oscillator concept was subsequently used to model the stance and swing phases of locomotion, how this impacted head and eye movements to maintain gaze in the direction of body motion, and how these were affected by Parkinson's disease. Finally, the relaxation oscillator was used to elucidate the functional form of the systolic and diastolic beats during blood pressure and how vasovagal syncope might be initiated by cerebellar-vestibular malfunction.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)329-345
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Neurophysiology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Locomotion
  • Nystagmus
  • Velocity storage
  • Vestibular-autonomic
  • Vestibulo-ocular


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