What Does Galvanic Vestibular Stimulation Stimulate?

  • Daniel L. Wardman
  • Richard C. Fitzpatrick
Part of the Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology book series (AEMB, volume 508)


The technique of galvanic vestibular stimulation (GVS) has been used for a long time. The stimulus produces stereotyped automatic postural and ocular responses. The mechanisms underlying these responses are not understood although they are commonly attributed to altered otolith output. Based on animal studies, it seems reasonable to assume that vestibular afferents from the otoliths and semicircular canals are affected similarly by GVS. With this assumption, and anatomical knowledge of the vestibular apparatus, a model is developed to describe the expected responses of vestibular afferents to percutaneous GVS and the physiological implications of this altered sensory signal. Bilateral bipolar GVS, the most commonly used technique, should produce a canal signal consistent with a strong ear-down roll towards the cathodal side, a smaller nose-to-cathode yaw, but no pitch signal. Bilateral bipolar GVS should also produce an otolith signal consistent with tilt towards the cathodal side or a translational acceleration towards the modal side. The expected responses for other configurations of GVS are also described. The model appears consistent with published data on the ocular and postural responses to GVS, and suggests other testable hypotheses concerning postural, ocular and perceptual responses to GVS.


Hair Cell Semicircular Canal Cathodal Side Galvanic Vestibular Stimulation Horizontal Canal 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Baird, R. A., Desmadryl, G., Fernandez, C., and Goldberg, J. M., 1988, The vestibular nerve of the chinchilla. II. Relation between afferent response properties and peripheral innervation patterns in the semicircular canals, Journal of Neurophysiology, 60, 182–203.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. Britton, T. C., Day, B. L., Brown, P., Rothwell, J. C., Thompson, P. D., and Marsden, C. D., 1993, Postural electromyographic responses in the arm and leg following galvanic vestibular stimulation in man, Experimental Brain Research, 94, 143–151.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Camis, M., 1930, The Physiology of the Vestibular Apparatus, Oxford University Press, London.Google Scholar
  4. Coats, A. C., 1973, Effect of varying stimulus parameters on the galvanic body-sway response, Annals of Otology, Rhinology and Laryngology, 82, 96–102.Google Scholar
  5. Day, B. L., Severac Cauquil, A., Bartolomei, L., Pastor, M. A., and Lyon, I. N., 1997, Human body-segment tilts induced by galvanic stimulation: a vestibularly driven balance protection mechanism, Journal of Physiology, 500, 661–672.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Fitzpatrick, R. C., Burke, D., and Gandevia, S. C., 1994, Task-dependent reflex responses and movement illusions evoked by galvanic vestibular stimulation in standing humans, Journal of Physiology, 478, 363–372.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. Goldberg, J. M., 2000, Afferent diversity and the organization of central vestibular pathways, Experimental Brain Research, 130,277–297.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Goldberg, J. M., Desmadryl, G., Baird, R. A., and Fernandez, C., 1990, The vestibular nerve of the chinchilla. IV. Discharge properties of utricular afferents, Journal of Neurophysiology, 63, 781–790.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. Goldberg, J. M., Smith, C. E., and Fernandez, C., 1984, Relation between discharge regularity and responses to externally applied galvanic currents in vestibular nerve afferents of the squirrel monkey, Journal of Neurophysiology, 51, 1236–1256.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. Gresty, M. A., Bronstein, A. M., Brandt, T., and Dieterich, M., 1992, Neurology of otolith function. Peripheral and central disorders, Brain, 115, 647–673.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Halmagyi, G. M., Gresty, M. A., and Gibson, W. P., 1979, Ocular tilt reaction with peripheral vestibular lesion, Annals of Neurology, 6, 80–83.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Highstein, S. M., Goldberg, J. M., Moschovakis, A. K., and Fernandez, C., 1987, Inputs from regularly and irregularly discharging vestibular nerve afferents to secondary neurons in the vestibular nuclei of the squirrel monkey. II. Correlation with output pathways of secondary neurons, Journal of Neurophysiology,58, 719–738.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Inglis, J. T., Shupert, C. L., Hlavacka, F., and Horak, F. B., 1995, Effect of galvanic vestibular stimulation on human postural responses during support surface translations, Journal of Neurophysiology, 73, 896–901.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. Kleine, J. F., Guldin, W. O., and Clarke, A. H., 1999, Variable otolith contribution to the galvanically induced vestibulo-ocular reflex, Neuroreport, 10, 1143–1148.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Lund, S., and Broberg, C., 1983, Effects of different head positions on postural sway in man induced by a reproducible vestibular error signal, Acta Physiologica Scandinavica, 117, 307–309.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Nashner, L. M., and Wolfson, P., 1974, Influence of head position and proprioceptive cues on short latency postural reflexes evoked by galvanic stimulation of the human labyrinth, Brain Research, 67, 255–268.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Pappas, D. G., 1984, Barany’s History of Vestibular Physiology, Translation and commentary, Annals of Otology, Rhinology and Laryngology, 110, 1–16.Google Scholar
  18. Pera, M., 1992, The Ambiguous Frog: The Galvani-Volta Controversy on Animal Electricity, Translated by Jonathan Mandelbaum, Princeton University Press, Princeton.Google Scholar
  19. Peterson, E. H., 1998, Are there parallel channels in the vestibular nerve? News in Physiological Sciences, 13, 194–201.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. Rothschuh, K. E., 1973. Physiology of the Enlightenment, in: Anonymous History of Physiology,Robert E. Krieger Publishing Company, New York.Google Scholar
  21. Sammartino, P., and Angoff, C., 1968, The Humanities in the Age of Science. In Honor of Peter Sammartino.,Farleigh Dickinson University Press, Rutherford, NJ.Google Scholar
  22. Sekitani, T., and Tanaka, M., 1975, Test for galvanic vestibular responses, Bulletin of the Yamaguchi Medical School, 22, 439–452.Google Scholar
  23. Severac Cauquil, A., Faldon, M., Popov, K., Bronstein, A., and Day, B. L., 1998, Torsional eye movements induced by galvanic vestibular stimulation in man, Journal of Physiology, 506P, 110–111.Google Scholar
  24. Severac Cauquil, A., Martinez, P., Ouaknine, M., and Tardy-Gervet, M-F., 2000, Orientation of the body response to galvanic stimulation as a function of the inter-vestibular balance, Experimental Brain Research, 133, 501–505.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Smith, S. T., Curthoys, I. S., and Moore, S. T., 1995, The human ocular torsion position response during yaw angular acceleration, Vision Research, 35, 2045–2055.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Spoendlin, H., 1966, Ultrastructure of the Vestibular sense organ, in: The Vestibular System and its Diseases,ed. Wolfson, R. J., University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia.Google Scholar
  27. Watson, S. D., Brizuela, A. E., Curthoys, I. S., Colebatch, J. G., Macdougall, H. G., and Halmagyi, G. M. 1998, Maintained ocular torsion produced by bilateral and unilateral galvanic (DC) vestibular stimulation in humans, Experimental Brain Research, 122, 453–458.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Zink, R., Bucher, S. F., Weiss, A., Brandt, T., and Dieterich, M., 1998, Effects of galvanic vestibular stimulation on otolithic and semicircular canal eye movements and perceived vertical, Electromyography and Clinical Neurophysiology, 107, 200–205.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Zink, R., Steddin, S., Weiss, A., Brandt, T., and Dieterich, M., 1997, Galvanic vestibular stimulation in humans - effects on otolith function in roll, Neuroscience Letters, 232, 171–174.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • Daniel L. Wardman
  • Richard C. Fitzpatrick
    • 1
  1. 1.Prince of Wales Medical Research InstituteSydneyAustralia

Personalised recommendations