Vestibular stimulation by magnetic fields

Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2015 Apr;1343(1):69-79. doi: 10.1111/nyas.12702. Epub 2015 Mar 3.


Individuals working next to strong static magnetic fields occasionally report disorientation and vertigo. With the increasing strength of magnetic fields used for magnetic resonance imaging studies, these reports have become more common. It was recently learned that humans, mice, and zebrafish all demonstrate behaviors consistent with constant peripheral vestibular stimulation while inside a strong, static magnetic field. The proposed mechanism for this effect involves a Lorentz force resulting from the interaction of a strong static magnetic field with naturally occurring ionic currents flowing through the inner ear endolymph into vestibular hair cells. The resulting force within the endolymph is strong enough to displace the lateral semicircular canal cupula, inducing vertigo and the horizontal nystagmus seen in normal mice and in humans. This review explores the evidence for interactions of magnetic fields with the vestibular system.

Keywords: Lorentz; magnetic; vestibular.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Electromagnetic Fields / adverse effects*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / adverse effects
  • Vertigo / etiology
  • Vertigo / physiopathology*
  • Vestibule, Labyrinth / physiopathology*