Visual and proprioceptive interaction in patients with bilateral vestibular loss
Following bilateral vestibular loss (BVL) patients gradually adapt to the loss of vestibular input and rely more on other sensory inputs. Here we examine changes in the way proprioceptive and visual inputs interact. We used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to investigate visual responses in the context of varying levels of proprioceptive input in 12 BVL subjects and 15 normal controls. A novel metal-free vibrator was developed to allow vibrotactile neck proprioceptive input to be
... ivered in the MRI system. A high level (100 Hz) and low level (30 Hz) control stimulus was applied over the left splenius capitis; only the high frequency stimulus generates a significant proprioceptive stimulus. The neck stimulus was applied in combination with static and moving (optokinetic) visual stimuli, in a factorial fMRI experimental design. We found that high level neck proprioceptive input had more cortical effect on brain activity in the BVL patients. This included a reduction in visual motion responses during high levels of proprioceptive input and differential activation in the midline cerebellum. In early visual cortical areas, the effect of high proprioceptive input was present for both visual conditions but in lateral visual areas, including V5/MT, the effect was only seen in the context of visual motion stimulation. The finding of a cortical visuo-proprioceptive interaction in BVL patients is consistent with behavioural data indicating that, in BVL patients, neck afferents partly replace vestibular input during the CNS-mediated compensatory process. An fMRI cervico-visual interaction may thus substitute the known visuo-vestibular interaction reported in normal subject fMRI studies. The results provide evidence for a cortical mechanism of adaptation to vestibular failure, in the form of an enhanced proprioceptive influence on visual processing. The results may provide the basis for a cortical mechanism involved in proprioceptive substitution of vestibular function in BVL patients.