To investigate vestibuloocular reflex (VOR) adaptation produced by changes in peripheral vestibular afference, we developed and tested a vestibular "prosthesis" that senses yaw-axis angular head velocity and uses this information to modulate the rate of electrical pulses applied to the lateral canal ampullary nerve. The ability of the brain to adapt the different components of the VOR (gain, phase, axis, and symmetry) during chronic prosthetic electrical stimulation was studied in two squirrel monkeys. After characterizing the normal yaw-axis VOR, electrodes were implanted in both lateral canals and the canals were plugged. The VOR in the canal-plugged/ instrumented state was measured and then unilateral stimulation was applied by the prosthesis. The VOR was repeatedly measured over several months while the prosthetic stimulation was cycled between off, low-sensitivity, and high-sensitivity stimulation states. The VOR response initially demonstrated a low gain, abnormal rotational axis, and substantial asymmetry. During chronic stimulation the gain increased, the rotational axis improved, and the VOR became more symmetric. Gain changes were augmented by cycling the stimulation between the off and both low- and high-sensitivity states every few weeks. The VOR time constant remained low throughout the period of chronic stimulation. These results demonstrate that the brain can adaptively modify the gain, axis, and symmetry of the VOR when provided with chronic motion-modulated electrical stimulation by a canal prosthesis.
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