Bilateral vestibular failure (BVF) is a severe chronic disorder of the labyrinth or the eighth cranial nerve characterized by unsteadiness of gait and disabling oscillopsia during head movements. According to animal data, vestibular input to the hippocampus is proposed to contribute to spatial memory and spatial navigation. Except for one seminal study showing the association of impaired spatial navigation and hippocampal atrophy, patient data in BVF are lacking. Therefore, we performed a voxel-wise comparison of the hippocampal gray matter volume (GMV) in a clinically representative sample of 27 patients with incomplete BVF and 29 age- and gender-matched healthy controls to test the hypothesis of hippocampal atrophy in BVF. Although the two groups did not generally differ in their hippocampal GMV, a reduction of GMV in the bilateral hippocampal CA3 region was significantly correlated with increased vestibulopathy-related clinical impairment. We propose that GMV reduction in the hippocampus of BVF patients is related to the severity of vestibular-induced disability which is in line with combined hippocampal atrophy and disorders of spatial navigation in complete vestibular deafferentation due to bilateral nerve section. Clinically, however, the most frequent etiologies of BVF cause incomplete lesions. Accordingly, hippocampus atrophy and deficits in spatial navigation occur possibly less frequently than previously suspected. Hum Brain Mapp 37:1998-2006, 2016. © 2016 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
Research Areas and Centers
- Academic Focus: Center for Brain, Behavior and Metabolism (CBBM)