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Neuroimage. 2002 Nov;17(3):1384-93.

Human vestibular cortex as identified with caloric stimulation in functional magnetic resonance imaging.

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Department of Neurology, Charité, Humboldt-University, D-10098 Berlin, Germany.


Anatomic and electrophysiological studies in monkeys have yielded a detailed map of cortex areas receiving vestibular afferents. In contrast, comparatively little is known about the cortical representation of the human vestibular system. In this study we applied caloric stimulation and fMRI to further characterize human cortical vestibular areas and to test for hemispheric dominance of vestibular information processing. For caloric vestibular stimulation we used cold nitrogen to avoid susceptibility artifacts induced by water calorics. Right and left side vestibular stimulation was repetitively performed inducing a nystagmus for at least 90 s after the end of the stimulation in all subjects. Only the first 60 s of this nystagmus period was included for statistical analysis and compared with the baseline condition. Activation maps revealed a cortical network with right hemispheric dominance, which in all subjects comprised the temporoparietal junction extending into the posterior insula and, furthermore, the anterior insula, pre- and postcentral gyrus, areas in the parietal lobe, the ventrolateral portion of the occipital lobe, and the inferior frontal gyrus extending into the inferior part of the precentral sulcus. In conclusion, caloric stimulation in fMRI reveals a widespread cortical network involved in vestibular signal processing corresponding to the findings from animal experiments and previous functional imaging studies in humans. Furthermore, this study demonstrates a strong right hemispheric dominance of vestibular cortex areas regardless of the stimulated side, consistent with the current view of a rightward asymmetrical cortical network for spatial orientation.

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