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The vestibular control of balance after stroke
  1. J F Marsden1,2,
  2. D E Playford2,
  3. B L Day1
  1. 1MRC Human Movement Group, Sobell Department of Motor Neuroscience and Movement Disorders, Institute of Neurology, Queen Square, London WCIN 3BG, UK
  2. 2Neurorehabilitation and Therapy Services Department, National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, Queen Square, London WCIN 3BG, UK
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr J Marsden
 MRC Human Movement Group, Sobell Department of Movement Disorders and Motor Neuroscience, Institute of Neurology, Queen Square, London WCIN 3BG, UK;


Objectives: To examine vestibular control of balance in those who recovered the ability to stand after middle cerebral artery (MCA) stroke.

Methods: Sixteen patients with MCA stroke were compared with 10 age matched controls. Two additional patients were studied with isolated corticospinal tract lesions, one each at the level of the pons and medulla. Vestibular evoked postural responses were obtained using galvanic vestibular stimulation (GVS) while patients stood with their eyes closed and head facing forwards, equally loading both legs. The GVS response was characterised by measuring the amplitude of the stimulus evoked lateral forces acting through each leg and the lateral displacement of the axial skeleton.

Results: Lateral displacement and net lateral force following GVS were significantly larger after stroke. Unlike controls, the lateral forces in the stroke group were asymmetrical, being enhanced on the side of the non-paretic limb and small on the side of the paretic limb. The degree of GVS evoked asymmetry correlated with corticospinal damage assessed using transcranial magnetic stimulation. A similar asymmetrical response was seen in the patient with the pontine lesion but not the patient with the medullary lesion.

Conclusions: MCA stroke may disrupt corticobulbar projections to brainstem output pathways involved in vestibular control of balance. These projections are either collaterals of the corticospinal tract or lie close to that tract and terminate in the pons/upper medulla. This hypothesis accounts for the association between corticospinal tract damage and GVS response asymmetry, and the lack of GVS evoked asymmetry with corticospinal lesions below the rostral medulla.

  • EMG, electromyography
  • GVS, galvanic vestibular stimulation
  • MCA, middle cerebral artery
  • MEP, motor evoked potential
  • MRI, magnetic resonance imaging
  • TMS, transcranial magnetic stimulation
  • stroke
  • balance
  • vestibular

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  • Competing interests: none declared

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