Galvanic and acoustic vestibular stimulation activate different populations of vestibular afferents

Ann M. Bacsi, Shaun R.D. Watson, James G. Colebatch*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


Objective: To deduce whether similar or distinct populations of vestibular afferents are activated by acoustic and galvanic vestibular stimulation by comparing the effectiveness of 'matched' stimuli in eliciting vestibulospinal reflexes. Methods: Twelve subjects (5 men, 7 women) underwent individual 'matching' of 2 ms tone burst and galvanic stimuli, using vestibulocollic reflexes so that corrected reflex amplitudes to tone burst and galvanic stimuli were within 10% of each other. These same intensities were then administered using 20 ms durations to determine whether they were equally effective in evoking vestibulospinal responses. Results: Corrected reflex amplitudes for vestibulocollic responses to tone burst and galvanic stimulation were not significantly different for the right (P=0.45) or left (P=0.68) sides. All subjects had vestibulospinal responses to galvanic stimulation (average intensity 4.0 mA for both sides). The short latency (SL) and medium latency (ML) components of the vestibulospinal reflexes were larger after galvanic compared to tone burst stimulation in 11 of 12 subjects (P<0.01). Conclusions: Despite evoking equal-sized vestibulocollic reflexes, there was a clear dissociation between the magnitude of tone burst and galvanic-induced vestibulospinal reflexes. Galvanic stimulation evoked SL and ML reflexes in all subjects. Tone burst stimuli evoked only small SL reflexes and, in most cases, no ML reflexes. Acoustically-evoked vestibulocollic reflexes are likely to be due to saccular excitation. The limited effectiveness of longer tone burst stimuli to evoke ML vestibulospinal reflexes suggests that saccular afferents have, at most, only a minor role in the production of these reflexes. We conclude that galvanic stimulation is more effective in eliciting vestibulospinal reflexes than tone burst stimulation, and that the two methods activate different populations of vestibular afferents.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)359-365
Number of pages7
JournalClinical Neurophysiology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2003
Externally publishedYes


  • Galvanic
  • Human
  • Vestibulocollic
  • Vestibulospinal


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