Hypothesis: Bone-conducted vibration (BCV) at 100 Hz causes endolymph displacement at hair cell stereocilia in semicircular canal (SCC) ducts of the intact bony labyrinth resulting in activation of irregularly discharging afferent neurons.
Background: Suprathreshold 100 Hz BCV is employed in the clinic to evoke skull vibration-induced nystagmus, an indicator for peripheral vestibular asymmetry. Recently, this stimulus has also been used in vestibular-evoked myogenic potentials, a selective test for otolithic function.
Methods: We performed extracellular recordings from utricular and SCC afferents in guinea pigs during application of suprathreshold BCV stimuli (100-500 Hz) to the animal's skull. Vibration was administered in a way that the animal, the vibrator, and the recording electrode moved as one.
Results: In summary, 19 of 43 recorded SCC afferents displayed a stimulus- and phase-locked increase in firing during stimulation at 100 Hz BCV with no perstimulatory adaptation and no poststimulatory silencing. All of the 19 activated SCC afferents had an irregular resting discharge. Neuronal activation of SCC afferents was less pronounced at 200 Hz and largely absent at 500 Hz. On the contrary, a stimulus- and phase-locked increase in firing was observed for irregularly discharging utricular neurons at all frequencies tested.
Conclusions: At intensities usually applied in the clinic, 500 Hz BCV is a largely selective otolithic stimulus, while 100 Hz BCV can activate both otolith and SCC afferents. Therefore, while 100 Hz BCV is ideally suited for evoking skull vibration-induced nystagmus in peripheral vestibular asymmetry, it is not recommended for vestibular-evoked myogenic potentials, as it lacks otolithic specificity.