State-dependent sensorimotor processing: gaze and posture stability during simulated flight in birds

J Neurophysiol. 2011 Apr;105(4):1689-700. doi: 10.1152/jn.00981.2010. Epub 2011 Feb 9.


Vestibular responses play an important role in maintaining gaze and posture stability during rotational motion. Previous studies suggest that these responses are state dependent, their expression varying with the environmental and locomotor conditions of the animal. In this study, we simulated an ethologically relevant state in the laboratory to study state-dependent vestibular responses in birds. We used frontal airflow to simulate gliding flight and measured pigeons' eye, head, and tail responses to rotational motion in darkness, under both head-fixed and head-free conditions. We show that both eye and head response gains are significantly higher during flight, thus enhancing gaze and head-in-space stability. We also characterize state-specific tail responses to pitch and roll rotation that would help to maintain body-in-space orientation during flight. These results demonstrate that vestibular sensorimotor processing is not fixed but depends instead on the animal's behavioral state.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology
  • Columbidae / physiology*
  • Eye Movements / physiology
  • Feedback, Sensory / physiology*
  • Flight, Animal / physiology*
  • Head Movements / physiology
  • Models, Biological*
  • Motion
  • Posture / physiology*
  • Vestibule, Labyrinth / physiology
  • Visual Perception / physiology*