15 Apr

Move It or Lose It

Is stimulation of the vestibular system necessary for normal spatial memory?

Studies in both experimental animals and human patients have demonstrated that peripheral vestibular lesions, especially bilateral lesions, are associated with spatial memory impairment that is long-lasting and may even be permanent. Electrophysiological evidence from animals indicates that bilateral vestibular loss causes place cells and theta activity to become dysfunctional; the most recent human evidence suggests that the hippocampus may cause atrophy in patients with bilateral vestibular lesions. Taken together, these studies suggest that self-motion information provided by the vestibular system is important for the development of spatial memory by areas of the brain such as the hippocampus, and when it is lost, spatial memory is impaired. This naturally suggests the converse possibility that activation of the vestibular system may enhance memory. Surprisingly, there is some human evidence that this may be the case. This review considers the relationship between the vestibular system and memory and suggests that the evolutionary age of this primitive sensory system as well as how it detects self-motion (i.e., detection of acceleration vs. velocity) may be the reasons for its unique contribution to spatial memory.

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