Neural basis of visually guided head movements studied with fMRI

J Neurophysiol. 2003 May;89(5):2516-27. doi: 10.1152/jn.00988.2002. Epub 2003 Jan 29.


We used event-related fMRI to measure brain activity while subjects performed saccadic eye, head, and gaze movements to visually presented targets. Two distinct patterns of response were observed. One set of areas was equally active during eye, head, and gaze movements and consisted of the superior and inferior subdivisions of the frontal eye fields, the supplementary eye field, the intraparietal sulcus, the precuneus, area MT in the lateral occipital sulcus and subcortically in basal ganglia, thalamus, and the superior colliculus. These areas have been previously observed in functional imaging studies of human eye movements, suggesting that a common set of brain areas subserves both oculomotor and head movement control in humans, consistent with data from single-unit recording and microstimulation studies in nonhuman primates that have described overlapping eye- and head-movement representations in oculomotor control areas. A second set of areas was active during head and gaze movements but not during eye movements. This set of areas included the posterior part of the planum temporale and the cortex at the temporoparietal junction, known as the parieto-insular vestibular cortex (PIVC). Activity in PIVC has been observed during imaging studies of invasive vestibular stimulation, and we confirm its role in processing the vestibular cues accompanying natural head movements. Our findings demonstrate that fMRI can be used to study the neural basis of head movements and show that areas that control eye movements also control head movements. In addition, we provide the first evidence for brain activity associated with vestibular input produced by natural head movements as opposed to invasive caloric or galvanic vestibular stimulation.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Adult
  • Brain / anatomy & histology*
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Electric Stimulation
  • Eye Movements / physiology
  • Female
  • Head Movements / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Nerve Net / anatomy & histology
  • Nerve Net / physiology
  • Oculomotor Muscles / innervation
  • Oculomotor Muscles / physiology
  • Photic Stimulation*
  • Physical Stimulation
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Reflex, Vestibulo-Ocular / physiology
  • Saccades / physiology
  • Somatosensory Cortex / physiology
  • Vestibule, Labyrinth / physiology