Visual and vestibular contributions to pitch sway stabilization in the ankle muscles of normals and patients with bilateral peripheral vestibular deficits

Research paper by J. H. J. Allum, C. R. Pfaltz

Indexed on: 01 Mar '85Published on: 01 Mar '85Published in: Experimental Brain Research


Vestibular, visual, and proprioceptive influences on muscle activity correcting for backwards body tilt were investigated in normals and patients with bilateral peripheral vestibular deficits. Body tilt was induced by a dorsi-flexion rotation of the feet about the ankle joints while the subject stood on a force measuring platform. Ankle muscle activity and torque were monitored as upright stance was reestablished, and correlated with head angular accelerations and neck muscle activity. In normals with eyes closed, soleus stretch reflex activity at 50–80 ms was followed by two bursts of tibialis anterior (TA) EMG activity at ca 80 and 125 ms from the onset of 36 deg/s, 3 deg amplitude platform rotations. Neck muscle activity rotated the head backwards at the same time as TA activity rotated the body forwards about the ankle joints. Under the influence of vision, i.e. eyes open, slight increases in the second burst of TA activity, and ankle torque were observed. When the subjects sat, and were instructed to activate TA rapidly on onset of the platform movement, TA EMG activity increased gradually at ca. 150 ms and not as a burst. In patients with long-lasting bilateral vestibular deficits, both bursts of TA activity were significantly less than normal with eyes closed. Consequently sway correcting torques were abnormally low and all but one of the patients fell over backwards. With eyes open, TA activity was slightly less than, and ankle torques were approximately equal to normal values. In contrast to normals, TA responses obtained in standing and sitting positions were not significantly different. Neck EMG activity varied from normal, consisting of a long burst 100 ms in duration. The present data indicate that a coordinated pattern of ankle, and neck muscle activity occurs during the first 150 ms following induced backward tilt. Ankle muscle activity corrects for the body sway, and neck muscle activity attempts to stabilise the head with respect to earth fixed coordinates. It is proposed that the vestibulo-spinal reflex system predominantly underlies the genesis and coordination of this muscle activity.