The sense of self-motion, orientation and balance explored by vestibular stimulation
St George, RJ and Fitzpatrick, RC, The sense of self-motion, orientation and balance explored by vestibular stimulation, Journal of Physiology, 589, (4) pp. 807-813. ISSN 0022-3751 (2011) [Refereed Article]
The sense of orientation during locomotion is derived from our spatial relationship with the external environment, sensed predominantly by sight and sound, and from internal signals of motion, generated by the vestibular sense and the pattern of efferent and afferent signals to the muscles and joints. The sensory channels operate in different reference frames and have different time-dependent adaptive properties and yet the inputs are combined by the central nervous system to create an internal representation of self-motion. In normal circumstances vestibular, visual and proprioceptive cues provide congruent information on locomotor trajectory; however, in cases of sensory discord there must be a recalibration of sensory signals to provide a unitary representation. We develop a means of studying these fusion processes by perturbing each channel in isolation about a consistent behavioural axis. This review focuses on creating the vestibular perturbation of the orientation sense by transmastoidal galvanic stimulation, a technique generally used to evoke balance reflexes. Vector summation across the population of semicircular canal afferents creates a net signal that is interpreted by the brain as a vector of angular acceleration in a craniocentric reference frame. The signal feeds perceptual processes of orientation after transformation that resolves the 3-D signal onto the terrestrial or behavioural plane. Changing head posture changes the interpretation of the galvanic vestibular signal for balance and orientation responses. With appropriate head alignments during locomotion, the galvanic stimulus can be used to either steer trajectory over the terrestrial plane or perturb balance.