Vestibular influences on human postural control in combinations of pitch and roll planes reveal differences in spatiotemporal processing

Research paper by M. Carpenter, J. Allum, F. Honegger

Indexed on: 01 Sep '01Published on: 01 Sep '01Published in: Experimental Brain Research


The present study examined the influence of bilateral peripheral vestibular loss (BVL) in humans on postural responses to multidirectional surface rotations in the pitch and roll planes. Specifically, we examined the effects of vestibular loss on the directional sensitivity, timing, and amplitude of early stretch, balance correcting, and stabilizing reactions in postural leg and trunk muscles as well as changes in ankle torque and trunk angular velocity following multidirectional rotational perturbations of the support surface. Fourteen normal healthy adults and five BVL patients stood on a dual axis rotating platform which rotated 7.5° at 50°/s through eight different directions of pitch and roll combinations separated by 45°. Directions were randomized within a series of 44 perturbation trials which were presented first with eyes open, followed by a second series of trials with eyes closed. Vestibular loss did not influence the range of activation or direction of maximum sensitivity for balance correcting responses (120–220 ms). Response onsets at approximately 120 ms were normal in tibialis anterior (TA), soleus (SOL), paraspinals (PARAS), or quadriceps muscles. Only SOL muscle activity demonstrated a 38- to 45-ms delay for combinations of forward (toe-down) and roll perturbations in BVL patients. The amplitude of balance correcting responses in leg muscles between 120 and 220 ms was, with one exception, severely reduced in BVL patients for eyes open and eyes closed conditions. SOL responses were decreased bilaterally for toe-up and toe-down perturbations, but more significantly reduced in the downhill (load-bearing) leg for combined roll and pitch perturbations. TA was significantly reduced bilaterally for toe-up perturbations, and in the downhill leg for backward roll perturbations. Forward perturbations, however, elicited significantly larger TA activity in BVL between 120 and 220 ms compared to normals, which would act to further destabilize the body. As a result of these changes in response amplitudes, BVL patients had reduced balance correcting ankle torque between 160 and 260 ms and increased torque between 280 and 380 ms compared to normals. There were no differences in the orientation of the resultant ankle torque vectors between BVL and normals, both of which were oriented primarily along the pitch plane. For combinations of backward (toe-up) and roll perturbations BVL patients had larger balance correcting and stabilizing reactions (between 350 and 700 ms) in PARAS than normals and these corresponded to excessive trunk pitch and roll velocities. During roll perturbations, trunk velocities in BVL subjects after 200 ms were directed along directions different from those of normals. Furthermore, roll instabilities appeared later than those of pitch particularly for backward roll perturbations. The results of the study show that combinations of roll and pitch surface rotations yield important spatiotemporal information, especially with respect to trunk response strategies changed by BVL which are not revealed by pitch plane perturbations alone. Our results indicate that vestibular influences are earlier for the pitch plane and are directed to leg muscles, whereas roll control is later and focused on trunk muscles.