Indexed on: 04 Aug '09Published on: 04 Aug '09Published in: Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences
The peripheral vestibular system is faced by a sensory ambiguity, where primary otolith afferents respond identically to translational (inertial) accelerations and changes in head orientation relative to gravity. Under certain conditions, this sensory ambiguity can be resolved using extra-otolith cues, including semicircular canal signals. Here we review and summarize how neurons in the vestibular nuclei, rostral fastigial nuclei, cerebellar nodulus/uvula, and thalamus respond during combinations of tilt and translation. We focus primarily on cerebellar cortex responses, as nodulus/uvula Purkinje cells reliably encode translation rather than net gravito-inertial acceleration. In contrast, neurons in the vestibular and rostral fastigial nuclei, as well as the ventral lateral and ventral posterior nuclei of the thalamus represent a continuum, with some encoding translation and some net gravito-inertial acceleration. This review also outlines how Purkinje cells use semicircular canal signals to solve the ambiguity problem and how this solution fails at low frequencies. We conclude by attempting to bridge the gap between the proposed roles of nodulus/uvula in tilt/translation discrimination and velocity storage.