We have previously shown that fast phase axis orientation and primary eye position in rhesus monkeys are dynamically controlled by otolith signals during head rotations that involve a reorientation of the head relative to gravity. Because of the inherent ambiguity associated with primary otolith afferent coding of linear accelerations during head translation and tilts, a similar organization might also underlie the vestibulo-ocular reflex (VOR) during translation. The ability of the oculomotor system to correctly distinguish translational accelerations from gravity in the dynamic control of primary eye position has been investigated here by comparing the eye movements elicited by sinusoidal lateral and fore-aft oscillations (0.5 Hz ± 40 cm, equivalent to ± 0.4 g) with those during yaw rotations (180(c)/s) about a vertically tilted axis (23.6°). We found a significant modulation of primary eye position as a function of linear acceleration (gravity) during rotation but not during lateral and fore-aft translation. This modulation was enhanced during the initial phase of rotation when there was concomitant semicircular canal input. These findings suggest that control of primary eye position and fast phase axis orientation in the VOR are based on central vestibular mechanisms that discriminate between gravity and translational head acceleration.
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