Article

Vortical flow in the utricle and the ampulla: a computational study on the fluid dynamics of the vestibular system.

Institute of Fluid Dynamics, ETH Zurich, Sonneggstrasse 3, 8092, Zurich, Switzerland, .
Biomechanics and Modeling in Mechanobiology (Impact Factor: 3.33). 05/2012; DOI: 10.1007/s10237-012-0402-y
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT We present a computational study of the fluid dynamics in healthy semicircular canals (SCCs) and the utricle. The SCCs are the primary sensors for angular velocity and are located in the vestibular part of the inner ear. The SCCs are connected to the utricle that hosts the utricular macula, a sensor for linear acceleration. The transduction of angular motion is triggered by the motion of a fluid called endolymph and by the interaction of this fluid with the sensory structures of the SCC. In our computations, we observe a vortical flow in the utricle and in the ampulla (the enlarged terminal part of the SCCs) which can lead to flow velocities in the utricle that are even higher than those in the SCCs. This is a fundamentally new result which is in contrast to the common belief that the fluid velocities in the utricle are negligible from a physiological point of view. Moreover, we show that the wall shear stresses in the utricle and the ampulla are maximized at the positions of the sensory epithelia. Possible physiological and clinical implications are discussed.

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    ABSTRACT: In our daily life, small flows in the semicircular canals (SCCs) of the inner ear displace a sensory structure called the cupula which mediates the transduction of head angular velocities to afferent signals. We consider a dysfunction of the SCCs known as canalithiasis. Under this condition, small debris particles disturb the flow in the SCCs and can cause benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV), arguably the most common form of vertigo in humans. The diagnosis of BPPV is mainly based on the analysis of typical eye movements (positional nystagmus) following provocative head maneuvers that are known to lead to vertigo in BPPV patients. These eye movements are triggered by the vestibulo-ocular reflex, and their velocity provides an indirect measurement of the cupula displacement. An attenuation of the vertigo and the nystagmus is often observed when the provocative maneuver is repeated. This attenuation is known as BPPV fatigue. It was not quantitatively described so far, and the mechanisms causing it remain unknown. We quantify fatigue by eye velocity measurements and propose a fluid dynamic interpretation of our results based on a computational model for the fluid-particle dynamics of a SCC with canalithiasis. Our model suggests that the particles may not go back to their initial position after a first head maneuver such that a second head maneuver leads to different particle trajectories causing smaller cupula displacements.
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