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The effects of gravitoinertial force level and head movements on post-rotational nystagmus and illusory after-rotation

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The effect of Coriolis, cross-coupled stimulation on the vestibuloocular reflex and the elicitation of motion sickness depends on background gravitoinertial force level (DiZio et al. 1986, 1987; Graybiel et al. 1977; Lackner and Graybiel 1984, 1986). We have explored whether this response dependency is related to the unusual patterns of sensorimotor activity present during exposure to non-terrestrial gravitoinertial force levels, to alterations in the encoding of head movements in different gravitoinertial force environments, or to some combination thereof. Blindfolded subjects were exposed to sudden stops after constant velocity, vertical z-axis rotation, sometimes with and sometimes without post-rotational head movements, in the 0 G, 1 G, and 1.8 G force phases of parabolic flight. After sudden stops without head movements, the time constant of decay of post-rotational nystagmus was significantly lower in 0 G than in 1 G and lower to a smaller extent in 1.8 G. Post-rotational head movements decreased the decay time constants in 1 G and in 1.8 G, but not in free fall. The same pattern emerged for the duration of illusory after-rotation. Systematic changes were not found in the peak slow phase velocity of nystagmus. These results suggest that tonic levels of otolithic and somatosensory activity in combination with canalicular, cervical, and motor activity regulate the velocity storage mechanism of the horizontal vestibuloocular reflex (Cohen et al. 1977; Raphan et al. 1979) and sensations of after-rotation. These same factors are likely to be important etiological elements in space motion sickness.

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Correspondence to P. DiZio.

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DiZio, P., Lackner, J.R. The effects of gravitoinertial force level and head movements on post-rotational nystagmus and illusory after-rotation. Exp Brain Res 70, 485–495 (1988). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00247597

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Key words

  • Vestibular
  • Head movements
  • Coriolis, cross-coupled stimulation
  • Gravitoinertial force
  • Post-rotational nystagmus
  • Space motion sickness