Indexed on: 26 Jul '14Published on: 26 Jul '14Published in: BioMed research international
Gravity is crucial for spatial perception, postural equilibrium, and movement generation. The vestibular apparatus is the main sensory system involved in monitoring gravity. Hair cells in the vestibular maculae respond to gravitoinertial forces, but they cannot distinguish between linear accelerations and changes of head orientation relative to gravity. The brain deals with this sensory ambiguity (which can cause some lethal airplane accidents) by combining several cues with the otolith signals: angular velocity signals provided by the semicircular canals, proprioceptive signals from muscles and tendons, visceral signals related to gravity, and visual signals. In particular, vision provides both static and dynamic signals about body orientation relative to the vertical, but it poorly discriminates arbitrary accelerations of moving objects. However, we are able to visually detect the specific acceleration of gravity since early infancy. This ability depends on the fact that gravity effects are stored in brain regions which integrate visual, vestibular, and neck proprioceptive signals and combine this information with an internal model of gravity effects.