In normal humans, tapping the forehead produces a neck muscle reflex that is used clinically to test vestibular function, the cervical vestibular evoked myogenic potential (cVEMP). As stretch receptors can also be activated by skull taps, we investigated the origin of the early and late peaks of the bone-conducted cVEMP. In twelve normal participants, we differentially stimulated the vestibular and neck stretch receptors by applying vibration to the forehead (activating both vestibular and stretch receptors) and to the sternum (activating mainly stretch receptors). Patients with bilateral vestibulopathy (BVP; n = 26) and unilateral vestibular loss (uVL; n = 17) were also investigated for comparison. Comparison of peaks in normal subjects suggested that the early peaks were vestibular-dependent, while the later peaks had mixed vestibular and stretch input. The late peaks were present but small (1.1 amplitude ratio) in patients with BVP and absent VEMPs, confirming that they do not strictly depend on vestibular function, and largest in age-matched controls (1.5 amplitude ratio, p = 0.049), suggesting that there is an additional vestibular reflex at this latency (approx. 30 ms). Patients with uVL had larger late peaks on the affected than the normal side (1.4 vs 1.0 amplitude ratio, p = 0.034). The results suggest that the early responses in SCM to skull vibration in humans are vestibular-dependent, while there is a late stretch reflex bilaterally and a late vestibular reflex in the contralateral muscle.
- Cervicocollic reflex
- Neck stretch reflex