BACKGROUND: The vestibular system is connected to spinal, cerebellar and cerebral motor control structures and can be selectively activated with external electrodes. The resulting sensation of disturbed balance can be avoided by using stochastic stimulation patterns. Adding noise to the nervous system sometimes improves function. Small clinical trials suggest that stochastic vestibular stimulation (SVS) may improve symptoms in Parkinson's disease. We have investigated this claim and possible mechanisms using the 6-hydroxydopamine (6-OHDA) hemilesion model of Parkinson's disease.
METHODOLOGY/PRINCIPAL FINDINGS: Animals were tested in the accelerating rod test and the Montoya staircase test of skilled forelimb use. In 6-OHDA hemilesioned animals, SVS improved rod performance by 56±11 s. At group level L-DOPA treatment had no effect, but positive responders improved time on rod by 60±19 s. Skilled forelimb use was not altered by SVS. To investigate how SVS may influence basal ganglia network activity, intracerebral microdialysis was employed in four regions of interest during and after SVS. In presence of the γ-amino buturic acid (GABA) transporter inhibitor NNC 711, SVS induced an increase in GABA to 150±15% of baseline in the substantia nigra (SN) of unlesioned animals, but had no effect in the pedunculopontine nucleus (PPN), the striatum or the ventromedial thalamus (VM). Dopamine release remained stable in all areas, as did GABA and amine concentrations in the SN of unstimulated controls. Following SVS, a sustained increase in GABA concentrations was observed in the ipsilesional, but not in the contralesional SN of 6-OHDA hemilesioned rats. In contrast, L-DOPA treatment produced a similar increase of GABA in the ipsi- and contra-lesional SN.
CONCLUSIONS/SIGNIFICANCE: SVS improves rod performance in a rat model of Parkinson's disease, possibly by increasing nigral GABA release in a dopamine independent way. We propose that SVS could be useful for treating symptoms of Parkinson's disease.
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