There is evidence in experimental animals for a potent vestibulosympathetic reflex, but its existence in humans is controversial. Static head-down neck flexion and off-vertical axis rotation have been shown to increase muscle sympathetic nerve activity (MSNA), but not skin sympathetic nerve activity (SSNA), whereas horizontal linear acceleration decreases MSNA in humans. However, both forms of stimuli also activate other receptors. To examine the effects of a pure vestibular stimulus on MSNA and SSNA, and its potential interaction with the baroreceptors, we used galvanic vestibular stimulation (GVS) in 12 healthy seated subjects. MSNA was recorded in ten subjects via a percutaneous microelectrode in the peroneal nerve; ECG, blood pressure, respiration, skin blood flow and sweating were also recorded. GVS (2 mA, 1 s pulse) was delivered via surface electrodes over the mastoid processes at unexpected times, triggered from the R-wave with a delay of 0, 200, 400 or 600 ms. In addition to causing robust postural illusions, GVS caused cutaneous vasoconstriction and sweat release in all subjects (due to a short-latency increase in SSNA, three subjects), but no significant change in MSNA. The failure of GVS to elicit a change in muscle sympathetic nerve activity, as documented by averaging, suggests that the vestibular system is not engaged in short-term modulation of muscle sympathetic activity. Conversely, phasic vestibular inputs do excite cutaneous sympathetic neurones, consistent with the observation that motion sickness is accompanied by pallor and sweating.
Experimental Brain Research Vol. 154, Issue 1, p. 39-43