New Hope for Vertigo Sufferers

Author: McGill University
Published: 2012/07/27 - Updated: 2021/08/19
Contents: Summary - Main - Related Publications

Synopsis: New information on how the brain processes information from inner ear provides hope for sufferers of vertigo. Vertigo is defined as the feeling that you or your environment is moving or spinning. It differs from dizziness in that vertigo describes an illusion of movement. For people with vestibular loss, performing basic daily living activities that we take for granted (e.g. dressing, eating, getting in and out of bed, getting around inside as well as outside the home) becomes difficult.

Main Digest

Decoding the secrets of balance - New understanding of how the brain processes information from inner ear offers hope for sufferers of vertigo.

Vertigo is defined as the feeling that you or your environment is moving or spinning. It differs from dizziness in that vertigo describes an illusion of movement. When you feel as if you yourself are moving, it's called subjective vertigo, and the perception that your surroundings are moving is called objective vertigo.

If you have ever looked over the edge of a cliff and felt dizzy, you understand the challenges faced by people who suffer from symptoms of vestibular dysfunction such as vertigo and dizziness. There are over 70 million of them in North America.

For people with vestibular loss, performing basic daily living activities that we take for granted (e.g. dressing, eating, getting in and out of bed, getting around inside as well as outside the home) becomes difficult since even small head movements are accompanied by dizziness and the risk of falling.

We've known for a while that a sensory system in the inner ear (the vestibular system) is responsible for helping us keep our balance by giving us a stable visual field as we move around. And while researchers have already developed a basic understanding of how the brain constructs our perceptions of ourselves in motion, until now no one has understood the crucial step by which the neurons in the brain select the information needed to keep us in balance.

The way that the brain takes in and decodes information sent by neurons in the inner ear is complex. The peripheral vestibular sensory neurons in the inner ear take in the time varying acceleration and velocity stimuli caused by our movement in the outside world (such as those experienced while riding in a car that moves from a stationary position to 50 km per hour). These neurons transmit detailed information about these stimuli to the brain (i.e. information that allows one to reconstruct how these stimuli vary over time) in the form of nerve impulses.

Scientists had previously believed that the brain decoded this information linearly and therefore actually attempted to reconstruct the time course of velocity and acceleration stimuli. But by combining electrophysiological and computational approaches, Kathleen Cullen and Maurice Chacron, two professors in McGill University's Department of Physiology, have been able to show for the first time that the neurons in the vestibular nuclei in the brain instead decode incoming information nonlinearly as they respond preferentially to unexpected, sudden changes in stimuli.

It is known that representations of the outside world change at each stage in this sensory pathway. For example, in the visual system neurons located closer to the periphery of the sensory system (e.g. ganglion cells in the retina) tend to respond to a wide range of sensory stimuli (a "dense" code), whereas central neurons (e.g. in the primary visual cortex at the back of the head tend to respond much more selectively (a "sparse" code).

Chacron and Cullen have discovered that the selective transmission of vestibular information they were able to document for the first time occurs as early as the first synapse in the brain.

"We were able to show that the brain has developed this very sophisticated computational strategy to represent sudden changes in movement in order to generate quick accurate responses and maintain balance," explained Prof. Cullen. "I keep describing it as elegant, because that's really how it strikes me."

This kind of selectivity in response is important for everyday life, since it enhances the brain's perception of sudden changes in body posture. So that if you step off an unseen curb, within milliseconds, your brain has both received the essential information and performed the sophisticated computation needed to help you readjust your position. This discovery is expected to apply to other sensory systems and eventually to the development of better treatments for patients who suffer from vertigo, dizziness, and disorientation during their daily activities. It should also lead to treatments that will help alleviate the symptoms that accompany motion and/or space sickness produced in more challenging environments.

The research was conducted by Corentin Massot a Postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Physiology, and Adam Schneider a Ph.D. Student in the Department of Physics.

Attribution/Source(s):

This quality-reviewed publication pertaining to our Vertigo and Balance Disorders section was selected for circulation by the editors of Disabled World due to its likely interest to our disability community readers. Though the content may have been edited for style, clarity, or length, the article "New Hope for Vertigo Sufferers" was originally written by McGill University, and submitted for publishing on 2012/07/27 (Edit Update: 2021/08/19). Should you require further information or clarification, McGill University can be contacted at the mcgill.ca website. Disabled World makes no warranties or representations in connection therewith.

📢 Discover Related Topics


👍 Share This Information To:
𝕏.com Facebook Reddit

Page Information, Citing and Disclaimer

Disabled World is an independent disability community founded in 2004 to provide disability news and information to people with disabilities, seniors, their family and/or carers. You can connect with us on social media such as X.com and our Facebook page.

Cite This Page (APA): McGill University. (2012, July 27). New Hope for Vertigo Sufferers. Disabled World. Retrieved April 15, 2024 from www.disabled-world.com/health/vertigo/dizziness.php

Permalink: <a href="https://www.disabled-world.com/health/vertigo/dizziness.php">New Hope for Vertigo Sufferers</a>: New information on how the brain processes information from inner ear provides hope for sufferers of vertigo.

Disabled World provides general information only. Materials presented are never meant to substitute for qualified professional medical care. Any 3rd party offering or advertising does not constitute an endorsement.