Galvanic vestibular stimulation (GVS) evokes responses in muscles of both legs when bilateral stimuli are applied during normal stance. We have used this technique to assess whether asymmetrical standing alters the distribution of responses in the two legs. Subjects stood either asymmetrically with 75% of their body weight on one leg or symmetrically with each leg taking 50% of their body weight. The net response in each leg was taken from changes in ground reaction force measured from separate force plates under each foot. The net force profile consisted of a small initial force change that peaked at approximately 200 ms followed by an oppositely directed larger component that peaked at approximately 450 ms. We analysed the second force component since it was responsible for the kinematic response of lateral body sway and tilt towards the anode. In the horizontal plane, both legs produced lateral force responses that were in the same direction but larger in the leg ipsilateral to the cathodal ear. There were also vertical force responses that were of equal size in both legs but acted in opposite directions. When subjects stood asymmetrically the directions of the force responses remained the same but their magnitudes changed. The lateral force response became 2-3 times larger for the more loaded leg and the vertical forces increased 1.5 times on average for both legs. Control experiments showed that these changes could not be explained by either the consistent (< 5 deg) head tilt towards the side of the loaded leg or the changes in background muscle activity associated with the asymmetrical posture. We conclude that the redistribution of force responses in the two legs arises from a load-sensing mechanism. We suggest there is a central interaction between load-related afferent input from the periphery and descending motor signals from balance centres.
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