The vestibular system in the inner ear senses angular head manoeuvres by endolymph fluid which deforms a gelatinous sensory structure (the cupula). We constructed computer models that include both the endolymph flow (using CFD modelling), the cupula deformation (using FEM modelling), and the interaction between both (using fluid–structure interaction modelling). In the wide utricle, we observe an endolymph vortex. In the initial time steps, both the displacement of the cupula and its restorative forces are still small. As a result, the endolymph vortex causes the cupula to deform asymmetrically in an S-shape. The asymmetric deflection increases the cupula strain near the crista and, as a result, enhances the sensitivity of the vestibular system. Throughout the head manoeuvre, the maximal cupula strain is located at the centre of the crista. The hair cells at the crista centre supply irregularly spiking afferents, which are more sensitive than the afferents from the periphery. Hence, the location of the maximal strain at the crista may also increase the sensitivity of the semicircular canal, but this remains to be tested. The cupula overshoots its relaxed position in a simulation of the Dix-Hallpike head manoeuvre (3 s in total). A much faster head manoeuvre of 0.222 s showed to be too short to cause substantial cupula overshoot, because the cupula time scale of both models (estimated to be 3.3 s) is an order of magnitude larger than the duration of this manoeuvre.
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- Computational fluid dynamics
- Finite element model
- Fluid–structure interaction
- Navier–Stokes equations
- Time constant
- Vestibular system