Neural substrates, dynamics and thresholds of galvanic vestibular stimulation in the behaving primate

Annie Kwan, Patrick A. Forbes, Diana E. Mitchell, Jean Sébastien Blouin, Kathleen E. Cullen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


Galvanic vestibular stimulation (GVS) uses the external application of electrical current to selectively target the vestibular system in humans. Despite its recent popularity for the assessment/treatment of clinical conditions, exactly how this non-invasive tool activates the vestibular system remains an open question. Here we directly investigate single vestibular afferent responses to GVS applied to the mastoid processes of awake-behaving monkeys. Transmastoid GVS produces robust and parallel activation of both canal and otolith afferents. Notably, afferent activation increases with intrinsic neuronal variability resulting in constant GVS-evoked neuronal detection thresholds across all afferents. Additionally, afferent tuning differs for GVS versus natural self-motion stimulation. Using a stochastic model of repetitive activity in afferents, we largely explain the main features of GVS-evoked vestibular afferent dynamics. Taken together, our results reveal the neural substrate underlying transmastoid GVS-evoked perceptual, ocular and postural responses—information that is essential to advance GVS applicability for biomedical uses in humans.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1904
JournalNature communications
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 1 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Chemistry(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Physics and Astronomy(all)


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