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The Vestibular System

The vestibular system is a mammalian sensory system that plays a major role in balance, body position and spatial orientation. There are many components in the vestibular system, including:

  1. The peripheral receptor apparatus, the vestibular portion of the VIIIth nerve, is a set of sensory organs within the inner ear that converts head motions into neural information. It is also known as the vestibular apparatus, peripheral vestibular apparatus, peripheral vestibular system and vestibular labyrinth. But, it is most commonly called the vestibular apparatus. Many vestibular problems arise from the middle and inner ear and the vestibular apparatus.
  2. The central vestibular system, which consists of vestibular nuclei and cerebellum, plays an important role in motor control. The vestibular nuclei (located in the brainstem) are the cranial nuclei for the vestibular nerve. The vestibular nuclei and cerebellum receive, integrate and distribute information that fine tunes motor activities.
  3. The vestibulo-ocular network controls eye movements - vestibulo-occular reflex (VOR).
  4. The vestibulospinal network coordinates head movements, muscles in the trunk as well as head and postural reflexes.
  5. The vestibulo-thalamo-cortical network is responsible for self-motion-perception and spatial orientation.

Vestibular function is largely reflex and unconscious, but it plays a vital role in our existence; it controls our sense of movement and balance. It also adjusts our heart rate and blood pressure, immune responses and arousal. Smell, taste and touch are the only senses not affected by the vestibular system.