Motion sickness occurs when the vestibular system is subjected to conflicting sensory information or overstimulation. Despite the lack of knowledge about the actual underlying mechanisms, several drugs, among which scopolamine, are known to prevent or alleviate the symptoms. Here, we aim at better understanding how motion sickness affects the vestibular system, as well as how scopolamine prevents motion sickness at the behavioral and cellular levels. We induced motion sickness in adult mice and tested the vestibulo-ocular responses to specific stimulations of the semi-circular canals and of the otoliths, with or without scopolamine, as well as the effects of scopolamine and muscarine on central vestibular neurons recorded on brainstem slices. We found that both motion sickness and scopolamine decrease the efficacy of the vestibulo-ocular reflexes and propose that this decrease in efficacy might be a protective mechanism to prevent later occurrences of motion sickness. To test this hypothesis, we used a behavioral paradigm based on visuo-vestibular interactions which reduces the efficacy of the vestibulo-ocular reflexes. This paradigm also offers protection against motion sickness, without requiring any drug. At the cellular level, we find that depending on the neuron, scopolamine can have opposite effects on the polarization level and firing frequency, indicating the presence of at least two types of muscarinic receptors in the medial vestibular nucleus. The present results set the basis for future studies of motion sickness counter-measures in the mouse model and offers translational perspectives for improving the treatment of affected patients.
Keywords: VOR; motion sickness; mouse; neurons; scopolamine; spatial orientation; vestibular; visuo-vestibular.