Vestibular-somatosensory convergence in head movement control during locomotion after long-duration space flight

J Vestib Res. 2012 Jan 1;22(2):153-66. doi: 10.3233/VES-2011-0435.


Space flight causes astronauts to be exposed to adaptation in both the vestibular and body load-sensing somatosensory systems. The goal of these studies was to examine the contributions of vestibular and body load-sensing somatosensory influences on vestibular mediated head movement control during locomotion after long-duration space flight. Subjects walked on a motor driven treadmill while performing a gaze stabilization task. Data were collected from three independent subject groups that included bilateral labyrinthine deficient (LD) patients, normal subjects before and after 30 minutes of 40% bodyweight unloaded treadmill walking, and astronauts before and after long-duration space flight. Motion data from the head and trunk segments were used to calculate the amplitude of angular head pitch and trunk vertical translation movement while subjects performed a gaze stabilization task, to estimate the contributions of vestibular reflexive mechanisms in head pitch movements. Exposure to unloaded locomotion caused a significant increase in head pitch movements in normal subjects, whereas the head pitch movements of LD patients were significantly decreased. This is the first evidence of adaptation of vestibular mediated head movement responses to unloaded treadmill walking. Astronaut subjects showed a heterogeneous response of both increases and decreases in the amplitude of head pitch movement. We infer that body load-sensing somatosensory input centrally modulates vestibular input and can adaptively modify vestibularly mediated head-movement control during locomotion. Thus, space flight may cause central adaptation of the converging vestibular and body load-sensing somatosensory systems leading to alterations in head movement control.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological / physiology
  • Adult
  • Astronauts
  • Female
  • Head Movements / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Locomotion / physiology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Ocular Motility Disorders / physiopathology
  • Reflex, Vestibulo-Ocular / physiology
  • Space Flight*
  • Vestibular Diseases / physiopathology
  • Vestibule, Labyrinth / physiology*
  • Walking / physiology