Spatiotemporal convergence and two-dimensional (2-D) neural tuning have been proposed as a major neural mechanism in the signal processing of linear acceleration. To examine this hypothesis, we studied the firing properties of primary otolith afferents and central otolith neurons that respond exclusively to horizontal linear accelerations of the head (0.16-10 Hz) in alert rhesus monkeys. Unlike primary afferents, the majority of central otolith neurons exhibited 2-D spatial tuning to linear acceleration. As a result, central otolith dynamics vary as a function of movement direction. During movement along the maximum sensitivity direction, the dynamics of all central otolith neurons differed significantly from those observed for the primary afferent population. Specifically at low frequencies (≤0.5 Hz), the firing rate of the majority of central otolith neurons peaked in phase with linear velocity, in contrast to primary afferents that peaked in phase with linear acceleration. At least three different groups of central response dynamics were described according to the properties observed for motion along the maximum sensitivity direction. 'High-pass' neurons exhibited increasing gains and phase values as a function of frequency. 'Flat' neurons were characterized by relatively flat gains and constant phase lags (~20-55°). A few neurons ('low-pass') were characterized by decreasing gain and phase as a function of frequency. The response dynamics of central otolith neurons suggest that the ~90°phase lags observed at low frequencies are not the result of a neural integration but rather the effect of nonminimum phase behavior, which could arise at least partly through spatiotemporal convergence. Neither afferent nor central otolith neurons discriminated between gravitational and inertial components of linear acceleration. Thus response sensitivity was indistinguishable during 0.5-Hz pitch oscillations and fore-aft movements. The fact that otolith-only central neurons with 'high-pass' filter properties exhibit semicircular canal-like dynamics during head flits might have important consequences for the conclusions of previous studies of sensory convergence and sensorimotor transformations in central vestibular neurons.
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