Adaptive rescaling of central sensorimotor signals is preserved after unilateral vestibular damage.
Adaptive rescaling is a widespread phenomenon that dynamically adjusts the input-output relationship of a sensory system in response to changes in the ambient stimulus conditions.
Rescaling has been described in the central vestibular neurons of normal cats. After recovery from unilateral vestibular damage, the vestibulo-ocular reflex (VOR) remains nonlinear for rotation toward the damaged side. Therefore, rescaling in the VOR pathway may be especially important after damage. Here, we demonstrate that central vestibular neurons adjust their input-output relationships depending on the input velocity range, suggesting that adaptive rescaling is preserved after vestibular damage and can contribute to the performance of the VOR. We recorded from isolated vestibular neurons in alert cats that had recovered from unilateral vestibular damage. The peak velocity of 1-Hz sinusoidal rotation was varied from 10 to 120 degrees/s and the sensitivities and dynamic ranges of vestibular neurons were measured. Most neuronal responses showed significant nonlinearities even at the lowest peak velocity that we tested. Significant rescaling was seen in the responses of neurons both ipsilateral and contralateral to chronic unilateral damage. On the average, when the peak rotational velocity increased by a factor of 8, the average sensitivity to rotation decreased by roughly a factor of 2. Rescaling did not depend on eye movement signals. Our results suggest that the dynamic ranges of central neurons are extended by rescaling and that, after vestibular damage, adaptive rescaling may act to reduce nonlinearities in the response of the VOR to rotation at high speeds.