Artificial balance: restoration of the vestibulo-ocular reflex in humans with a prototype vestibular neuroprosthesis

Angelica Perez Fornos, Nils Guinand, Raymond van de Berg, Robert Stokroos, Silvestro Micera, Herman Kingma, Marco Pelizzone, Jean-Philippe Guyot

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

27 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

The vestibular system plays a crucial role in the multisensory control of balance. When vestibular function is lost, essential tasks such as postural control, gaze stabilization, and spatial orientation are limited and the quality of life of patients is significantly impaired. Currently, there is no effective treatment for bilateral vestibular deficits. Research efforts both in animals and humans during the last decade set a solid background to the concept of using electrical stimulation to restore vestibular function. Still, the potential clinical benefit of a vestibular neuroprosthesis has to be demonstrated to pave the way for a translation into clinical trials. An important parameter for the assessment of vestibular function is the vestibulo-ocular reflex (VOR), the primary mechanism responsible for maintaining the perception of a stable visual environment while moving. Here we show that the VOR can be artificially restored in humans using motion-controlled, amplitude modulated electrical stimulation of the ampullary branches of the vestibular nerve. Three patients received a vestibular neuroprosthesis prototype, consisting of a modified cochlear implant providing vestibular electrodes. Significantly higher VOR responses were observed when the prototype was turned ON. Furthermore, VOR responses increased significantly as the intensity of the stimulation increased, reaching on average 79% of those measured in healthy volunteers in the same experimental conditions. These results constitute a fundamental milestone and allow us to envision for the first time clinically useful rehabilitation of patients with bilateral vestibular loss.

Original languageEnglish
Article number66
JournalFrontiers in Neurology
Volume5
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2014

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