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The Vestibular SystemA Sixth Sense$
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Jay M. Goldberg, Victor J. Wilson, Kathleen E. Cullen, Dora E. Angelaki, Dianne M. Broussard, Jean Buttner-Ennever, Kikuro Fukushima, and Lloyd B. Minor

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780195167085

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195167085.001.0001

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Physiology of the Vestibular Organs

Physiology of the Vestibular Organs

4 Physiology of the Vestibular Organs
The Vestibular System

Jay M. Goldberg

Victor J. Wilson

Kathleen E. Cullen

Dora E. Angelaki

Dianne M. Broussard

Jean A. Büttner-Ennever

Kikuro Fukushima

Lloyd B. Minor

Oxford University Press

The vestibular organs monitor the motion of the head and the forces acting on it. Each semicircular canal measures the angular motion of the head around a single axis, while the three canals, given their nearly orthogonal orientation, provide the brain with a three-dimensional reconstruction of this motion. Similarly, the two otolith organs furnish a three-dimensional reconstruction of translational motion. In addition, the otolith organs, because of their sensitivity to linear forces, respond to tilts that change the orientation of the head with respect to the earth's gravitational field. Given the differences in their design and function, this chapter considers the canals and otolith organs separately. Before doing so, however, the chapter summarizes features that are common to both sets of organs. It emphasizes two approaches that are of particular importance in understanding the function of an organ: firstly, its biomechanics, which determines how motion of the head is coupled to hair-bundle deflection; and secondly, afferent discharge, which is the result of the several stages of transduction, and describes the information delivered by the vestibular nerve to the brain.

Keywords:   vestibular organs, semicircular canals, otolith organs, biomechanics, afferent discharge

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