Coding strategies in the otolith system differ for translational head motion vs. static orientation relative to gravity

Elife. 2019 Jun 14:8:e45573. doi: 10.7554/eLife.45573.


The detection of gravito-inertial forces by the otolith system is essential for our sense of balance and accurate perception. To date, however, how this system encodes the self-motion stimuli that are experienced during everyday activities remains unknown. Here, we addressed this fundamental question directly by recording from single otolith afferents in monkeys during naturalistic translational self-motion and changes in static head orientation. Otolith afferents with higher intrinsic variability transmitted more information overall about translational self-motion than their regular counterparts, owing to stronger nonlinearities that enabled precise spike timing including phase locking. By contrast, more regular afferents better discriminated between different static head orientations relative to gravity. Using computational methods, we further demonstrated that coupled increases in intrinsic variability and sensitivity accounted for the observed functional differences between afferent classes. Together, our results indicate that irregular and regular otolith afferents use different strategies to encode naturalistic self-motion and static head orientation relative to gravity.

Keywords: neural coding; neuroscience; otolith afferents; rhesus macaque; self-motion; spike timing; tilt; translation.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Gravity Sensing*
  • Head Movements*
  • Macaca fascicularis
  • Male
  • Motion Perception*
  • Orientation, Spatial*
  • Otolithic Membrane / metabolism*

Associated data

  • figshare/10.6084/m9.figshare.8251613