A decade of magnetic vestibular stimulation: from serendipity to physics to the clinic.

Published in J Neurophysiol, on 2019


Bryan K Ward, Dale C Roberts, Jorge Otero-Millan & David S Zee


For many years, people working near strong static magnetic fields of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines have reported dizziness and sensations of vertigo. The discovery a decade ago that a sustained nystagmus can be observed in all humans with an intact labyrinth inside MRI machines led to a possible mechanism: a Lorentz force occurring in the labyrinth from the interactions of normal inner ear ionic currents and the strong static magnetic fields of the MRI machine. Inside an MRI, the Lorentz force acts to induce a constant deflection of the semicircular canal cupula of the superior and lateral semicircular canals. This inner ear stimulation creates a sensation of rotation, and a constant horizontal/torsional nystagmus that can only be observed when visual fixation is removed. Over time, the brain adapts to both the perception of rotation and the nystagmus, with the perception usually diminishing over a few minutes, and the nystagmus persisting at a reduced level for hours. This observation has led to discoveries about how the central vestibular mechanisms adapt to a constant vestibular asymmetry and is a useful model of set-point adaptation or how homeostasis is maintained in response to changes in the internal milieu or the external environment. We review what is known about the effects of stimulation of the vestibular system with high strength-magnetic fields and how the mechanism has been refined since it was first proposed. We suggest future ways that MVS might be used to understand vestibular disease and how it might be treated.


Ward, Roberts, Otero-Millan & Zee (2019) A decade of magnetic vestibular stimulation: from serendipity to physics to the clinic.. J Neurophysiol. 2019 Jun 1;121(6):2013-2019.

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