The kinematic constraints of three-dimensional eye positions were investigated in rhesus monkeys during passive head and body rotations relative to gravity. We studied fast and slow phase components of the vestibulo-ocular reflex (VOR) elicited by constant-velocity yaw rotations and sinusoidal oscillations about an earth-horizontal axis. We found that the spatial orientation of both fast and slow phase eye positions could be described locally by a planar surface with torsional variation of <2.0 ± 0.4 (displacement planes) that systematically rotated and/or shifted relative to Listing's plane. In supine/prone positions, displacement planes pitched forward/backward; in left/right ear-down positions, displacement planes were parallel shifted along the positive/negative torsional axis. Dynamically changing primary eye positions were computed from displacement planes. Torsional and vertical components of primary eye position modulated as a sinusoidal function of head orientation in space. The torsional component was maximal in ear-down positions and approximately zero in supine/prone orientations. The opposite was observed for the vertical component. Modulation of the horizontal component of primary eye position exhibited a more complex dependence. In contrast to the torsional component, which was relatively independent of rotational speed, modulation of the vertical and horizontal components of primary position depended strongly on the speed of head rotation (i.e., on the frequency of oscillation of the gravity vector component): the faster the head rotated relative to gravity, the larger was the modulation: Corresponding results were obtained when a model based on a sinusoidal dependence of instantaneous displacement planes (and primary eye position) on head orientation relative to gravity was fitted to VOR fast phase positions. When VOR fast phase positions were expressed relative to primary eye position estimated from the model fits, they were confined approximately to a single plane with a small torsional standard deviation (~1,4-2.6). This reduced torsional variation was in contrast to the large torsional spread (well >10-15) of fast phase positions when expressed relative to Listing's plane. We conclude that primary eye position depends dynamically on head orientation relative to space rather than being fixed to the head. It defines a gravity-dependent coordinate system relative to which the torsional variability of eye positions is minimized even when the head is moved passively and vestibulo-ocular reflexes are evoked. In this general sense. Listing's law is preserved with respect to an otolith-controlled reference system that is defined dynamically by gravity.
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