The Vestibular System

Noura Al Bistami, Sarah Phenix
  • Author
    Noura Al Bistami

    Noura has completed her MSc in Neuroscience from King's College London after receiving her BA in Psychology from the American University of Beirut. She is currently pursuing her career in Neuroscience, and has taught subjects pertaining to psychology, english literature, history, neuroscience, and neurobiology.

  • Instructor
    Sarah Phenix
Learn about the vestibular system, including the vestibular definition, the vestibular organs, the system's location, and the vestibulocochlear nerve function. Updated: 08/17/2021

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What Is the Vestibular System?

The vestibular system is also known as the system of balance, and it comprises several important organs that are mostly found in the inner ear.

Vestibular Definition

The term "vestibular" means something that functions as a vestibule, or a passageway between the inner and the outer areas. This is because the vestibular system consists of several key cavities, such as the one found in the ear. The vestibular system consists of several organs and structures that have important functions for maintaining equilibrium in the body.

The structures of the vestibular system, showing the canals and tubes in the inner ear

the vestibular system, vestibular system, vestibular

Where Is the Vestibular System Located

The vestibular system comprises of many structures, tracts, and organs, but the main parts are located in the inner ear. The components found in the inner ear comprise the vestibular labyrinth, which is made up of several other canals and organs with key functions in balance.

Vestibular System Function

The vestibular system has several important functions pertaining to maintaining the body's balance and the sensation of hearing. The former function is maintained by the vestibular system organs having the ability to detect motions in the head relative to gravity, and this also corresponds to the ability to regulate visual gaze, spatial orientation, navigation and posture. When a person experiences dizziness, it is often caused by the vestibular system. Head motion in certain directions activates the receptors found in the organs, so the receptors are direction-specific. Other receptors are activated by linear acceleration, in addition to tilts of the head.

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The vestibular system has the main function of ensuring the body is in balance

Balance, vestibular system, vestibular, coordination

Vestibular Anatomy: Vestibular Organs and Structures

In order to understand how the vestibular system works and functions, it is important to know the organs and structures that make up this system. The vestibular organs are listed below.

Vestibulocochlear Nerve: Function, Structure, and Vestibular Cortex

The vestibulocochlear nerve, also known as cranial nerve VIII, is responsible for relaying information on equilibrium and sound from the vestibular system and cochlea of the ear, respectively. The vestibulocochlear nerve then sends this information to the brain through specific fibers to the vestibular cortex of the brain, which is where the information is processed. The vestibular cortex is located in the cerebrum of the brain, just behind the ear. The vestibulocochlear nerve also sends out signals to the brainstem and cerebellum, which are two other key areas of the brain associated with posture and balance. One unique feature about the vestibulocochlear nerve is that it is responsible for two important functions, which include hearing (via the cochlear nerve) and maintaining balance (via the vestibular nerve).

Vestibule

The vestibule is the structure the vestibular system is named for, and it is responsible for detecting gravitational forces. It is found within the inner ear, and the two main sacs of this structure, the utricle and saccule, are also known as otolith organs. These otolith organs contain vestibular receptors that become activated with changes in head tilt relative to gravity. The saccule is responsible for transmitting information about gravitational and acceleration forces that are rising and falling, whereas the utricle is responsible for sensing the forward and backward motion of those forces. The vestibule is also the central part of the inner ear, and is named as such because it looks like the entrance hall of the ear.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What happens if the vestibular system is damaged?

If the vestibular system becomes damaged or inflamed, the result may include dizziness, the sensation of swaying and spinning, and other complications like fever and nausea.

What does the vestibulocochlear nerve do?

The vestibulocochlear nerve transmits information on the body's balance and hearing back to the brain's vestibular cortex and hearing areas.

What is the main role of the vestibular system?

The main role of the vestibular system is to transmit information on the body's balance and posture with respect to the environment.

Why is the vestibulocochlear nerve unique?

The vestibulocochlear nerve is unique because it consists of cells that function towards two key factors, including hearing and balance.

Where are the vestibular organs?

The vestibular organs include five main structures, which are the three semicircular canals (horizontal, posterior, anterior) and the two otolith organs (utricle and saccule).

Can you fix your vestibular system?

The vestibular system can be damaged by trauma or inflammation, but medications or certain tilting exercises can often improve the symptoms experienced.

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