The vestibular system contributes to regulating sympathetic nerve activity and blood pressure. Initial studies in decerebrate animals showed that neurons in the rostral ventrolateral medulla (RVLM) respond to small-amplitude (<10°) rotations of the body, as in other brain areas that process vestibular signals, although such movements do not affect blood distribution in the body. However, a subsequent experiment in conscious animals showed that few RVLM neurons respond to small-amplitude movements. This study tested the hypothesis that RVLM neurons in conscious animals respond to signals from the vestibular otolith organs elicited by large-amplitude static tilts. The activity of approximately one-third of RVLM neurons whose firing rate was related to the cardiac cycle, and thus likely received baroreceptor inputs, was modulated by vestibular inputs elicited by 40° head-up tilts in conscious cats, but not during 10° sinusoidal rotations in the pitch plane that affected the activity of neurons in brain regions providing inputs to the RVLM. These data suggest the existence of brain circuitry that suppresses vestibular influences on the activity of RVLM neurons and the sympathetic nervous system unless these inputs are physiologically warranted. We also determined that RVLM neurons failed to respond to a light cue signaling the movement, suggesting that feedforward cardiovascular responses do not occur before passive movements that require cardiovascular adjustments.
Keywords: cognition; orthostatic hypotension; sympathetic nervous system; vestibular system.