Vestibulo–ocular reflex

The vestibulo-ocular reflex (VOR) is a reflex, where activation of the vestibular system causes eye movement. This reflex functions to stabilize images on the retinas (in yoked vision) during head movement by producing eye movements in the direction opposite to head movement, thus preserving the image on the center of the visual field(s). For example, when the head moves to the right, the eyes move to the left, and vice versa. Since slight head movement is present all the time, VOR is necessary for stabilizing vision: patients whose VOR is impaired find it difficult to read using print, because they cannot stabilize the eyes during small head tremors, and also because damage to the VOR can cause vestibular nystagmus.

The VOR does not depend on visual input. It can be elicited by caloric (hot or cold) stimulation of the inner ear, and works even in total darkness or when the eyes are closed. However, in the presence of light, the fixation reflex is also added to the movement.

In other animals, the gravity organs and eyes are strictly connected. A fish, for instance, moves its eyes by reflex when its tail is moved. Humans have semicircular canals, neck muscle "stretch" receptors, and the utricle (gravity organ). Though the semicircular canals cause most of the reflexes which are responsive to acceleration, the maintaining of balance is mediated by the stretch of neck muscles and the pull of gravity on the utricle (otolith organ) of the inner ear.

The VOR has both rotational and translational aspects. When the head rotates about any axis (horizontal, vertical, or torsional) distant visual images are stabilized by rotating the eyes about the same axis, but in the opposite direction. When the head translates, for example during walking, the visual fixation point is maintained by rotating gaze direction in the opposite direction, by an amount that depends on distance.

 

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