Effects of vestibular loss on head stabilization in response to head and body perturbations

C. L. Shupert, F. B. Horak

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


Control of head position during postural responses is important to facilitate both the interpretation of vestibular signals and the stabilization of gaze. In these experiments, we compared head stabilization for two different postural tasks: 1) in response to perturbations at the head, and 2) in response to perturbations induced at the support surface, which perturb both body and head position. To determine whether normal vestibular function is necessary for head stabilization in these two tasks, responses to forward and backward mechanical perturbations of the head and body were compared for 13 normal subjects and 4 patients with profound bilateral vestibular loss (two with vestibular loss in adulthood and two in infancy). Normal subjects showed little neck muscle activity for body perturbations, but large, early activations in both neck extensors and flexors for head perturbations. In contrast, vestibular patients showed excessive neck muscle activation for body perturbations and reduced or absent neck muscle activity for head perturbations. Patients with vestibular loss in adulthood also showed increased head acceleration in response to both head and body perturbations, but patients with vestibular loss in infancy showed more normal head accelerations. For body perturbations, the differences in head acceleration between patients and normals were greater for later head acceleration peaks, indicating poor head control during the execution of the postural response. Trunk angle changes were also higher in the patients for forward body perturbations, indicating that poorer control of trunk position could have contributed to their poorer head stabilization. These results indicate that the vestibular system plays an important role in head and trunk stabilization for both head and body perturbations. However, the more normal head accelerations of the patients with infant vestibular loss also indicate that other mechanisms, possibly involving neck reflexes, can at least partially substitute for the vestibular system to provide head and trunk stabilization.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)423-437
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Vestibular Research: Equilibrium and Orientation
Issue number6
StatePublished - 1996
Externally publishedYes


  • EMG
  • head stabilization
  • neck
  • posture
  • somatosensory
  • vestibular

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Otorhinolaryngology
  • Sensory Systems
  • Clinical Neurology


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