Abstract

This study investigated the role of cognition in the vestibulo-ocular reflex (VOR) and ocular pursuit using a dual-task paradigm in patients with unilateral peripheral vestibular loss and healthy adults. We hypothesized that cognitive resources are involved in successful processing and integration of vestibular and ocular motor sensory information, and this requirement would be greater in patients with vestibular dys-function. Sixteen well-compensated patients with surgically confirmed absent unilateral peripheral vestibular function and 16 healthy age-and sex-matched controls underwent seven combinations of vestibular-only, visual-only, and visual-vestibular stimuli while performing three different information processing tasks. Visual-vestibular stimuli included a semi-circular canal and an otolith stimulus provided through seated chair rotations; fixation on a laser target and sinusoidal smooth pursuit while still; and fixation on a head-fixed laser target during chair rotations. The information processing tasks were three different auditory reaction time (RT) tasks: (1) simple RT (2) disjunctive RT, and (3) choice RT. Our results showed increases in RTs in both patients and controls under all vestibular-only stimulation conditions and during ocular pursuit. Patients showed greater increases in RTs during vestibular stimulation and the more complex disjunctive and choice RT tasks. No differences between the groups were found during the visual-only or visual-vestibular interaction conditions. These results reveal interference between vestibulo-ocular processing and a concurrent RT task, suggesting that the VOR and the ocular motor system are dependent upon cognitive resources to some extent, and thus, are not fully automatic systems. We speculate that this interference with cognition occurs as a result of the sensory integration required for resolving inputs from multiple sensory streams. The particularly large decrement in information processing task performance of the patients compared with controls during vestibular stimulation suggests that compensation for unilateral vestibular loss requires continued cognitive resources.

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