Electromyograms (EMGs) were recorded from surface electrodes over the sternomastoid muscles and averaged in response to brief (0.1 ms) clicks played through headphones. In normal subjects, clicks 85 to 100 dB above our reference (45 dB SPL: close to perceptual threshold for normal subjects for such clicks) evoked reproducible changes in the averaged EMG beginning at a mean latency of 8.2 ms. The earliest potential change, a biphasic positive-negativity (p13-n23), occurred in all subjects and the response recorded from over the muscle on each side was predominantly generated by afferents originating from the ipsilateral ear. Later potentials (n34, p44), present in most but not all subjects, were generated bilaterally after unilateral ear stimulation. The amplitude of the averaged responses increased in direct proportion to the mean level of tonic muscle activation during the recording period. The p13-n23 response was abolished in patients who had undergone selective section of the vestibular nerve but was preserved in subjects with severe sensorineural hearing loss. It is proposed that the p13-n23 response is generated by activation of vestibular afferents, possibly those arising from the saccule, and transmitted via a rapidly conducting oligosynaptic pathway to anterior neck muscles. Conversely, the n34 and p44 potentials do not depend on the integrity of the vestibular nerve and probably originate from cochlear afferents.
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