Physiological basis and pharmacology of motion sickness: an update

Brain Res Bull. 1998 Nov 15;47(5):395-406. doi: 10.1016/s0361-9230(98)00092-6.


Motion sickness can occur when sensory inputs regarding body position in space are contradictory or are different from those predicted from experience. Signals from the vestibular system are essential for triggering motion sickness. The evolutionary significance of this malady is unclear, although it may simply represent the aberrant activation of vestibuloautonomic pathways that typically subserve homeostasis. The neural pathways that produce nausea and vomiting during motion sickness are presumed to be similar to those that generate illness after ingestion of toxins. The neural substrate of nausea is unknown but may include neurons in the hypothalamus and inferior frontal gyrus of the cerebral cortex. The principal motor act of vomiting is accomplished through the simultaneous contractions of inspiratory and expiratory respiratory muscles and is mediated by neurons in the lateral medullary reticular formation and perhaps by cells near the medullary midline. Cocontraction of the diaphragm and abdominal muscles increases pressure on the stomach, which causes gastric contents to be ejected through the mouth. Effective drugs for combating motion sickness include antihistamines, antimuscarinics, 5-HT1A (serotonergic) receptor agonists and neurokinin type 1 receptor antagonists. However, considerable information concerning the physiological basis and pharmacology of motion sickness is unknown; future research using animal models will be required to understand this condition.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antiemetics / therapeutic use
  • Conflict, Psychological
  • Cues
  • Humans
  • Motion Sickness / drug therapy
  • Motion Sickness / physiopathology*
  • Motion Sickness / psychology
  • Nausea / drug therapy
  • Nausea / etiology
  • Nausea / physiopathology
  • Spatial Behavior / drug effects
  • Spatial Behavior / physiology
  • Stress, Physiological / complications
  • Stress, Physiological / drug therapy
  • Stress, Physiological / physiopathology
  • Vomiting / drug therapy
  • Vomiting / etiology
  • Vomiting / physiopathology


  • Antiemetics