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M.I.T./Canadian vestibular experiments on the Spacelab-1 mission: 3. Effects of prolonged weightlessness on a human otolith-spinal reflex

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Reflex responses that depend on human otolith organ sensitivity were measured before, during and after a 10 day space flight. Otolith-spinal reflexes were elicited by means of sudden, unexpected falls. In weightlessness, “falls” were achieved using elastic cords running from a torso harness to the floor. Electromyographic (EMG) activity was recorded from gastrocnemius-soleus. The EMG response occurring in the first 100–120 ms of a fall, considered to be predominantly otolith-spinal in origin, decreased in amplitude immediately upon entering weightlessness, and continued to decline throughout the flight, especially during the first two mission days. The response returned to normal before the first post-flight testing session. The results suggest that information coming from the otolith organs is gradually ignored by the nervous system during prolonged space flight, although the possibility that otolith-spinal reflexes are decreased independent of other otolith output pathways cannot be ruled out.

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Correspondence to D. G. D. Watt.

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Watt, D.G.D., Money, K.E. & Tomi, L.M. M.I.T./Canadian vestibular experiments on the Spacelab-1 mission: 3. Effects of prolonged weightlessness on a human otolith-spinal reflex. Exp Brain Res 64, 308–315 (1986). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00237748

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Key words

  • Otoliths
  • Otolith-spinal
  • Falls
  • Proprioception
  • Muscle