Incremental angular vestibulo-ocular reflex adaptation to active head rotation

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Studies on motor learning typically present a constant adaptation stimulus, corresponding to the desired final adaptive state. Studies of the auditory and optokinetic systems provide compelling evidence that neural plasticity is enhanced when the error signal driving adaptation is instead adjusted gradually throughout training. We sought to determine whether the angular vestibulo-ocular reflex (aVOR) may be adaptively increased using an incremental velocity error signal (IVE) compared with a conventional constant and large velocity-gain demand (x2). We compared the magnitude of aVOR gain change for these two paradigms across different motion contexts (active and passive). Seven individuals with normal vestibular function and six individuals with unilateral vestibular hypofunction (UVH) were exposed to the IVE and x2 ("control") aVOR demand tasks. Each subject participated in 10 epochs of 30 active head impulses over a 15 min aVOR gain increase training session separately for the IVE and x2 paradigms, separated by either seven days (normal subjects) or 14 days (UVH subjects). For both normal and UVH subjects, both paradigms led to aVOR gain increase during the training session. For the normal subjects, the IVE paradigm led to larger aVOR gain change after training compared to the x2 paradigm, for both active (mean 17.3 ± 4% vs. mean 7.1 ± 9%, P = 0.029) and passive (mean 14.2 ± 5% vs. 4.5 ± 8%, P = 0.018) head impulses. For subjects with UVH, IVE produced a greater change in aVOR gain for active head impulses (mean 18.2 ± 9.2% vs. mean -6 ± 3.8%, P = 0.003). However, aVOR gains for passive head impulses were less consistent after IVE, with only two subjects displaying greater aVOR gain with this incremental paradigm. Some individuals generated compensatory saccades that occurred in the same direction of the deficient aVOR during either training paradigm. Our data suggest that the aVOR is modifiable when the velocity error signal is presented incrementally, and that this adaptation stimulus is particularly effective in the case of unilateral vestibular hypofunction. This has implications for programs of vestibular rehabilitation, where active head rotation is prescribed as a means to improve gaze stability.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)435-446
Number of pages12
JournalExperimental Brain Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2008


  • Adaptation
  • Saccades
  • Vestibular rehabilitation
  • Vestibulo-ocular reflex

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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