The rotational vestibulo-ocular reflex (rVOR) generates compensatory eye movements in response to rotational head accelerations. The velocity-storage mechanism (VSM), which is controlled by the vestibulo-cerebellar nodulus and uvula, determines the rVOR time constant. In healthy subjects, it has been suggested that self-motion perception in response to earth-vertical axis rotations depends on the VSM in a similar way as reflexive eye movements. We aimed at further investigating this hypothesis and speculated that if the rVOR and rotational self-motion perception share a common VSM, alteration in the latter, such as those occurring after a loss of the regulatory control by vestibulo-cerebellar structures, would result in similar reflexive and perceptual response changes. We therefore set out to explore both responses in patients with vestibulo-cerebellar degeneration.
Reflexive eye movements and perceived rotational velocity were simultaneously recorded in 14 patients with chronic vestibulo-cerebellar degeneration (28–81yrs) and 12 age-matched healthy subjects (30–72yrs) after the sudden deceleration (90°/s2) from constant-velocity (90°/s) rotations about the earth-vertical yaw and pitch axes. rVOR and perceived rotational velocity data were analyzed using a two-exponential model with a direct pathway, representing semicircular canal activity, and an indirect pathway, implementing the VSM. We found that VSM time constants of rVOR and perceived rotational velocity co-varied in cerebellar patients and in healthy controls (Pearson correlation coefficient for yaw 0.95; for pitch 0.93, p<0.01). When constraining model parameters to use the same VSM time constant for rVOR and perceived rotational velocity, moreover, no significant deterioration of the quality of fit was found for both populations (variance-accounted-for >0.8).
Our results confirm that self-motion perception in response to rotational velocity-steps may be controlled by the same velocity storage network that controls reflexive eye movements and that no additional, e.g. cortical, mechanisms are required to explain perceptual dynamics.