Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV) is a common vestibular disorder that results in brief periods of vertigo and nystagmus, when the head is tipped relative to gravity. Symptoms are commonly attributed to the pathological presence of heavy calcium carbonate particles within the lumen of the semicircular canal(s) - a condition termed canalithiasis. In the present work, we induced canalithiasis in an animal model (oyster toadfish, Opsanus tau) by introducing heavy glass microbeads into the lumen of the lateral semicircular canal. Bead movement under the action of gravity and canal afferent nerve discharge were recorded in vivo. When the head was oriented nose-down, beads moved toward the nose and the lateral canal afferent discharge rate increased. Afferents that normally encoded angular velocity during oscillatory head rotations responded with tonic increases in the discharge rate during gravity-dependent bead movement. Other afferents, such as the units that rapidly adapt to a step increase in angular head velocity, responded with an initial increase in discharge rate followed by a period of adaptation. Afferent responses occurred in the complete absence of head movement and quantify the pathological inputs to the brain that arise from canalithiasis. The magnitude and time course of the responses reported here are sufficient to explain the symptoms of BPPV.
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