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J Neurophysiol. 2008 Jul;100(1):140-53. doi: 10.1152/jn.01012.2007. Epub 2008 Apr 16.

Roll tilt psychophysics in rhesus monkeys during vestibular and visual stimulation.

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  • 1Department of Otolaryngology, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, USA.


How does the brain calculate the spatial orientation of the head relative to gravity? Psychophysical measurements are critical to investigate this question, but such measurements have been limited to humans. In non-human primates, behavioral measures have focused on vestibular-mediated eye movements, which do not reflect percepts of head orientation. We have therefore developed a method to measure tilt perception in monkeys, derived from the subjective visual vertical (SVV) task. Two rhesus monkeys were trained to align a light bar parallel to gravity and performed this task during roll tilts, centrifugation, and roll optokinetic stimulation. The monkeys accurately aligned the light bar with gravity during static roll tilts but also demonstrated small orientation-dependent misperceptions of the tilt angle analogous to those measured in humans. When the gravito-inertial force (GIF) rotated dynamically in the roll plane, SVV responses remained closely aligned with the GIF during roll tilt of the head (coplanar canal rotational cues present), lagged slightly behind the GIF during variable-radius centrifugation (no canal cues present), and shifted gradually during fixed-radius centrifugation (orthogonal yaw canal cues present). SVV responses also deviated away from the earth-vertical during roll optokinetic stimulation. These results demonstrate that rotational cues derived from the semicircular canals and visual system have prominent effects on psychophysical measurements of roll tilt in rhesus monkeys and therefore suggest that a central synthesis of graviceptive and rotational cues contributes to percepts of head orientation relative to gravity in non-human primates.

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