The horizontal angular vestibuloocular reflex (VOR) evoked by high-frequency, high-acceleration rotations was studied in four squirrel monkeys after unilateral plugging of the three semicircular canals. During the period (1-4 days) that animals were kept in darkness after plugging, the gain during steps of acceleration (3, 000 degrees /s(2), peak velocity = 150 degrees /s) was 0.61 +/- 0.14 (mean +/- SD) for contralesional rotations and 0.33 +/- 0.03 for ipsilesional rotations. Within 18-24 h after animals were returned to light, the VOR gain for contralesional rotations increased to 0. 88 +/- 0.05, whereas there was only a slight increase in the gain for ipsilesional rotations to 0.37 +/- 0.07. A symmetrical increase in the gain measured at the plateau of head velocity was noted after animals were returned to light. The latency of the VOR was 8.2 +/- 0. 4 ms for ipsilesional and 7.1 +/- 0.3 ms for contralesional rotations. The VOR evoked by sinusoidal rotations of 0.5-15 Hz, +/-20 degrees /s had no significant half-cycle asymmetries. The recovery of gain for these responses after plugging was greater at lower than at higher frequencies. Responses to rotations at higher velocities for frequencies >/=4 Hz showed an increase in contralesional half-cycle gain, whereas ipsilesional half-cycle gain was unchanged. A residual response that appeared to be canal and not otolith mediated was noted after plugging of all six semicircular canals. This response increased with frequency to reach a gain of 0.23 +/- 0.03 at 15 Hz, resembling that predicted based on a reduction of the dominant time constant of the canal to 32 ms after plugging. A model incorporating linear and nonlinear pathways was used to simulate the data. The coefficients of this model were determined from data in animals with intact vestibular function. Selective increases in the gain for the linear and nonlinear pathways predicted the changes in recovery observed after canal plugging. An increase in gain of the linear pathway accounted for the recovery in VOR gain for both responses at the velocity plateau of the steps of acceleration and for the sinusoidal rotations at lower peak velocities. The increase in gain for contralesional responses to steps of acceleration and sinusoidal rotations at higher frequencies and velocities was due to an increase in the gain of the nonlinear pathway. This pathway was driven into inhibitory cutoff at low velocities and therefore made no contribution for rotations toward the ipsilesional side.