Vestibular pathways involved in cognition

Front Integr Neurosci. 2014 Jul 23:8:59. doi: 10.3389/fnint.2014.00059. eCollection 2014.


Recent discoveries have emphasized the role of the vestibular system in cognitive processes such as memory, spatial navigation and bodily self-consciousness. A precise understanding of the vestibular pathways involved is essential to understand the consequences of vestibular diseases for cognition, as well as develop therapeutic strategies to facilitate recovery. The knowledge of the "vestibular cortical projection areas", defined as the cortical areas activated by vestibular stimulation, has dramatically increased over the last several years from both anatomical and functional points of view. Four major pathways have been hypothesized to transmit vestibular information to the vestibular cortex: (1) the vestibulo-thalamo-cortical pathway, which probably transmits spatial information about the environment via the parietal, entorhinal and perirhinal cortices to the hippocampus and is associated with spatial representation and self-versus object motion distinctions; (2) the pathway from the dorsal tegmental nucleus via the lateral mammillary nucleus, the anterodorsal nucleus of the thalamus to the entorhinal cortex, which transmits information for estimations of head direction; (3) the pathway via the nucleus reticularis pontis oralis, the supramammillary nucleus and the medial septum to the hippocampus, which transmits information supporting hippocampal theta rhythm and memory; and (4) a possible pathway via the cerebellum, and the ventral lateral nucleus of the thalamus (perhaps to the parietal cortex), which transmits information for spatial learning. Finally a new pathway is hypothesized via the basal ganglia, potentially involved in spatial learning and spatial memory. From these pathways, progressively emerges the anatomical network of vestibular cognition.

Keywords: basal ganglia; cognition; hippocampus; neuroanatomy; spatial orientation; theta; vestibular cortex; vestibular system.

Publication types

  • Review