Temporoparietal encoding of space and time during vestibular-guided orientation

Brain. 2016 Feb;139(Pt 2):392-403. doi: 10.1093/brain/awv370. Epub 2015 Dec 30.


When we walk in our environment, we readily determine our travelled distance and location using visual cues. In the dark, estimating travelled distance uses a combination of somatosensory and vestibular (i.e., inertial) cues. The observed inability of patients with complete peripheral vestibular failure to update their angular travelled distance during active or passive turns in the dark implies a privileged role for vestibular cues during human angular orientation. As vestibular signals only provide inertial cues of self-motion (e.g., velocity, °/s), the brain must convert motion information to distance information (a process called 'path integration') to maintain our spatial orientation during self-motion in the dark. It is unknown, however, what brain areas are involved in converting vestibular-motion signals to those that enable such vestibular-spatial orientation. Hence, using voxel-based lesion-symptom mapping techniques, we explored the effect of acute right hemisphere lesions in 18 patients on perceived angular position, velocity and motion duration during whole-body angular rotations in the dark. First, compared to healthy controls' spatial orientation performance, we found that of the 18 acute stroke patients tested, only the four patients with damage to the temporoparietal junction showed impaired spatial orientation performance for leftward (contralesional) compared to rightward (ipsilesional) rotations. Second, only patients with temporoparietal junction damage showed a congruent underestimation in both their travelled distance (perceived as shorter) and motion duration (perceived as briefer) for leftward compared to rightward rotations. All 18 lesion patients tested showed normal self-motion perception. These data suggest that the cerebral cortical regions mediating vestibular-motion ('am I moving?') and vestibular-spatial perception ('where am I?') are distinct. Furthermore, the congruent contralesional deficit in time (motion duration) and position perception, seen only in temporoparietal junction patients, may reflect a common neural substrate in the temporoparietal junction that mediates the encoding of motion duration and travelled distance during vestibular-guided navigation. Alternatively, the deficits in timing and spatial orientation with temporoparietal junction lesions could be functionally linked, implying that the temporoparietal junction may act as a cortical temporal integrator, combining estimates of self-motion velocity over time to derive an estimate of travelled distance. This intriguing possibility predicts that timing abnormalities could lead to spatial disorientation.

Keywords: path-integration; spatial orientation; temporo-parietal junction; time perception; vestibular perception.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Motion Perception / physiology*
  • Orientation / physiology*
  • Parietal Lobe / physiology*
  • Photic Stimulation / methods
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Space Perception / physiology*
  • Stroke / diagnosis
  • Stroke / physiopathology
  • Temporal Lobe / physiology*
  • Time Factors
  • Vestibular Function Tests / methods