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Keywords:

  • caloric vestibular stimulation;
  • multisensory integration;
  • somatosensation

Abstract

Functional imaging studies show that vestibular and somatosensory projections overlap in the human brain. However, it remains unclear whether and how vestibular inputs affect somatosensory function. To address this issue, we studied the effects of left caloric vestibular stimulation (CVS) on detection of near-threshold somatosensory stimuli delivered to the left and right hands of healthy volunteers. To investigate whether these effects were somatosensory specific, or supramodal, we also tested CVS modulation of visual contrast detection. Signal detection analyses showed increased somatosensory perceptual sensitivity immediately after CVS, both ipsilaterally and contralaterally. No statistically reliable effects on visual contrast sensitivity were found. These findings suggest that vestibular stimulation has a specific facilitatory effect on somatosensory detection, distinct from non-specific arousal and spatial attentional effects of CVS. Thus, the overlap in brain activations for vestibular and somatosensory inputs is not simply an anatomical curiosity, but may reflect a functional cross-modal perceptual interaction.