Effect of head pitch and roll orientations on magnetically induced vertigo

Omar S Mian, Yan Li, Andre Antunes, Paul M Glover, Brian L Day

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


KEY POINTS: Lying supine in a strong magnetic field, such as in magnetic resonance imaging scanners, can induce a perception of whole-body rotation. The leading hypothesis to explain this invokes a Lorentz force mechanism acting on vestibular endolymph that acts to stimulate semicircular canals. The hypothesis predicts that the perception of whole-body rotation will depend on head orientation in the field. Results showed that the direction and magnitude of apparent whole-body rotation while stationary in a 7 T magnetic field is influenced by head orientation. The data are compatible with the Lorentz force hypothesis of magnetic vestibular stimulation and furthermore demonstrate the operation of a spatial transformation process from head-referenced vestibular signals to Earth-referenced body motion.

ABSTRACT: High strength static magnetic fields are known to induce vertigo, believed to be via stimulation of the vestibular system. The leading hypothesis (Lorentz forces) predicts that the induced vertigo should depend on the orientation of the magnetic field relative to the head. In this study we examined the effect of static head pitch (-80 to +40 deg; 12 participants) and roll (-40 to +40 deg; 11 participants) on qualitative and quantitative aspects of vertigo experienced in the dark by healthy humans when exposed to the static uniform magnetic field inside a 7 T MRI scanner. Three participants were additionally examined at 180 deg pitch and roll orientations. The effect of roll orientation on horizontal and vertical nystagmus was also measured and was found to affect only the vertical component. Vertigo was most discomforting when head pitch was around 60 deg extension and was mildest when it was around 20 deg flexion. Quantitative analysis of vertigo focused on the induced perception of horizontal-plane rotation reported online with the aid of hand-held switches. Head orientation had effects on both the magnitude and the direction of this perceived rotation. The data suggest sinusoidal relationships between head orientation and perception with spatial periods of 180 deg for pitch and 360 deg for roll, which we explain is consistent with the Lorentz force hypothesis. The effects of head pitch on vertigo and previously reported nystagmus are consistent with both effects being driven by a common vestibular signal. To explain all the observed effects, this common signal requires contributions from multiple semicircular canals.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1051-1067
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Physiology
Issue number4
Early online date28 Nov 2015
Publication statusPublished - 28 Dec 2016

Cite this