Vestibular contributions to high-level sensorimotor functions

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Abstract

The vestibular system, which detects motion and orientation of the head in space, is known to be important in controlling gaze to stabilize vision, to ensure postural stability and to provide our sense of self-motion. While the brain's computations underlying these functions are extensively studied, the role of the vestibular system in higher level sensorimotor functions is less clear. This review covers new research on the vestibular influence on perceptual judgments, motor decisions, and the ability to learn multiple motor actions. Guided by concepts such as optimization, inference, estimation and control, we focus on how the brain determines causal relationships between memorized and visual representations in the updating of visual space, and how vestibular, visual and efferent motor information are integrated in the estimation of body motion. We also discuss evidence that these computations involve multiple coordinate representations, some of which can be probed in parietal cortex using neuronal oscillations derived from EEG. In addition, we describe work on decision making during self-motion, showing a clear modulation of bottom-up acceleration signals on decisions in the saccadic system. Finally, we consider the importance of vestibular signals as contextual cues in motor learning and recall. Taken together, these results emphasize the impact of vestibular information on high-level sensorimotor functions, and identify future directions for theoretical, behavioral, and neurophysiological investigations.

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