Characterizing high-velocity angular vestibulo-ocular reflex function in service members post-blast exposure

Exp Brain Res. 2011 Feb;208(3):399-410. doi: 10.1007/s00221-010-2490-1. Epub 2010 Nov 27.


Blasts (explosions) are the most common mechanism of injury in modern warfare. Traumatic brain injury (TBI) and dizziness are common sequelae associated with blasts, and many service members (SMs) report symptoms worsen with activity. The purpose of this study was to measure angular vestibulo-ocular reflex gain (aVOR) of blast-exposed SMs with TBI during head impulse testing. We also assessed their symptoms during exertion. Twenty-four SMs recovering from TBI were prospectively assigned to one of two groups based on the presence or absence of dizziness. Wireless monocular scleral search coil and rate sensor were used to characterize active and passive yaw and pitch head and eye rotations. Visual analog scale (VAS) was used to monitor symptoms during fast walking/running. For active yaw head impulses, aVOR gains were significantly lower in the symptomatic group (0.79 ± 0.15) versus asymptomatic (0.87 ± 0.18), but not for passive head rotation. For pitch head rotation, the symptomatic group had both active (0.915 ± 0.24) and passive (0.878 ± 0.22) aVOR gains lower than the asymptomatic group (active 1.03 ± 0.27, passive 0.97 ± 0.23). Some SMs had elevated aVOR gain. VAS scores for all symptoms were highest during exertion. Our data suggest symptomatic SMs with TBI as a result of blast have varied aVOR gain during high-velocity head impulses and provide compelling evidence of pathology affecting the vestibular system. Potential loci of injury in this population include the following: disruption of pathways relaying vestibular efference signals, differential destruction of type I vestibular hair cells, or selective damage to irregular afferent pathways-any of which may explain the common discrepancy between reports of vestibular-like symptoms and laboratory testing results. Significantly reduced pitch aVOR in symptomatic SMs and peak symptom severity during exertional testing support earlier findings in the chronic blast-exposed active duty SMs.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Blast Injuries / diagnosis
  • Blast Injuries / physiopathology*
  • Blast Injuries / psychology
  • Brain Injuries / diagnosis
  • Brain Injuries / physiopathology*
  • Brain Injuries / psychology
  • Explosions*
  • Eye Movements / physiology
  • Female
  • Head Movements / physiology
  • Humans
  • Magnetics / methods
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Military Personnel* / psychology
  • Prospective Studies
  • Reflex, Vestibulo-Ocular / physiology*
  • Young Adult