Does vestibular stimulation activate thalamocortical mechanisms that reintegrate impaired cortical regions?
Caloric stimulation induced a transient reversal of multimodal hemispatial cognitive deficits in an 81-year-old woman with an acute left cerebral hemisphere stroke. The patient had unawareness of her right hand (asomatognosia), right-sided visual unawareness (hemineglect), aphasia and right-sided weakness (hemiplegia) prior to the stimulation. Transient improvements in impaired sensory, motor, linguistic and cognitive function developed within 30 s following application of the caloric stimulus and onset of horizontal nystagmus. The effect persisted for 3 min and ceased completely after 5 min. While several recent reports have described the capacity of caloric stimulation to transiently improve or reverse a wide range of attentional, cognitive and motor impairments, most examples are in right-hemisphere-damaged patients with long-standing brain injury. Typically, patients have been tested several months or years after the onset of the deficit. A possible mechanism for the temporary reintegration of multiple cognitive functions in this patient is discussed.