Journal of Neurophysiology

Neural basis for motor learning in the vestibuloocular reflex of primates. I. Changes in the responses of brain stem neurons

S. G. Lisberger, T. A. Pavelko, D. M. Broussard

Abstract

1. We recorded from neurons in the brain stem of monkeys before and after they had worn magnifying or miniaturizing spectacles to cause changes in the gain of the vestibuloocular reflex (VOR). The gain of the VOR was estimated as eye speed divided by head speed during passive horizontal head rotation in darkness. Electrical stimulation in the cerebellum was used to identify neurons that receive inhibition at monosynaptic latencies from the flocculus and ventral paraflocculus (flocculus target neurons or FTNs). Cells were studied during smooth pursuit eye movements with the head stationary, fixation of different positions, cancellation of the VOR, and the VOR evoked by rapid changes in head velocity. 2. FTNs were divided into two populations according to their responses during pursuit with the head stationary. The two groups showed increased firing during smooth eye motion toward the side of recording (Eye-ipsiversive or E-i) or away from the side of recording (Eye-contraversive or E-c). A higher percentage of FTNs showed increased firing rate for contraversive pursuit when the gain of the VOR was high (> or = 1.6) than when the gain of the VOR was low (< or = 0.4). 3. Changes in the gain of the VOR had a striking effect on the responses during the VOR for the FTNs that were E-c during pursuit with the head stationary. Firing rate increased during contraversive VOR eye movements when the gain of the VOR was high or normal and decreased during contraversive VOR eye movements when the gain of the VOR was low. Changes in the gain of the VOR caused smaller changes in the responses during the VOR of FTNs that were E-i during pursuit with the head stationary. We argue that motor learning in the VOR is the result of changes in the responses of individual FTNs. 4. The responses of E-i and E-c FTNS during cancellation of the VOR depended on the gain of the VOR. Responses tended to be in phase with contraversive head motion when the gain of the VOR was low and in phase with ipsiversive head motion when the gain of the VOR was high. Comparison of the effect of motor learning on the responses of FTNs during cancellation of the VOR with the results of similar experiments on horizontal-gaze velocity Purkinje cells in the flocculus and ventral paraflocculus suggests that the brain stem vestibular inputs to FTNs are one site of motor learning in the VOR.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)