Bilateral vestibular loss in cats leads to active destabilization of balance during pitch and roll rotations of the support surface
Although the balance difficulties accompanying vestibular loss are well known, the underlying cause remains unclear. We examined the role of vestibular inputs in the automatic postural response (APR) to pitch and roll rotations of the support surface in freely standing cats before and in the first week after bilateral labyrinthectomy. Support surface rotations accelerate the body center of mass toward the downhill side. The normal APR consists of inhibition in the extensors of the uphill limbs and excitation in the downhill limbs to decelerate the body and maintain the alignment of the limbs with respect to earth-vertical. After vestibular lesion, cats were unstable during rotation perturbations and actively pushed themselves downhill rather than uphill, using a postural response that was opposite to that seen in the control trials. The extensors of the uphill rather than downhill limbs were activated, whereas those of the downhill limbs were inhibited rather than being excited. We propose that vestibular inputs provide an important reference to earth-vertical, which is critical to computing the appropriate postural response during active orientation to the vertical. In the absence of this vestibular information, subjects orient to the support surface using proprioceptive inputs, which drives the body downhill resulting in instability and falling. This is consistent with current models of sensory integration for computation of body posture and orientation.