Acta astronautica

Function-morphological investigations of fish inner ear otoliths as basis for interpretation of human space sickness.

PMID 11829019


In man, altered gravity may lead to a vestibular dysfunction causing space motion sickness. A hypothesis was developed, according to which asymmetric inner ear statoliths might be the morphological basis of space sickness. The animal model, fish, revealed further information: inner ear "stone" (otolith) growth is dependent on the amplitude and the direction of gravity, regulated by a negative feedback mechanism. The present study was focused on the question, where the regulation centre of adaptive otolith growth may be situated. Therefore, the vestibular nerve was unilaterally transected in neonate swordtail fish (Xiphophorus helleri). As growth marker, the calcium tracer alizarin-complexone was used. It was found that otolith growth had ceased on the operated head sides indicating that the brain is significantly involved in regulating otolith growth. About 2 weeks after nerve transection, otoliths had regained normal growth, probably due to nerve regeneration. Concerning fish, it has now to be tested, if this regeneration is affected by altered gravity, e.g. in a long-term experiment on the International Space Station. Regarding mammals, it has to be proved if asymmetric statoliths are the basis of kinetosis and whether or not the mammalian brain has an effect on statolith growth in the course of compensating altered gravity.

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Alizarin-3-methyliminodiacetic acid