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The impact of vestibular modulations on whole brain structure and function in humans
The impact of vestibular modulations on whole brain structure and function in humans
The vestibular system is a sensory system that monitors active and passive headmovements while at the same time permanently sensing gravity. Vestibular information is important for maintaining balance and stabilisation of vision and ultimately for general orientation in space. A distributed set of cortical vestibular regions process vestibular sensory information, together with other sensory and motor signals. How these brain regions are influenced by or interact with each other, and how this depends on the context in which the system is acting is not well understood. In my research I investigated the whole brain consequences of different vestibular sensory contexts by means of structural and functional magnetic resonance (MR) imaging on three different time scales (long-term, short-term, and medium-term). For the long-term time scale, I investigated functional brain connectivity in individuals experiencing a type of chronic dizziness that cannot be explained by structural damage within the nervous system. These patients exhibit chronic or long-term alterations in their processing of vestibular information, which leads to dizziness and vertigo. I found altered sensory and cerebellar network connectivity when they experience a dizziness-provoking stimulus. These two networks contain, but are not limited to, vestibular processing regions, demonstrating the importance of a whole-brain approach. The alterations correspond the notion that these patients have dysfunctional stimulus expectations. The short-term vestibular processing I investigated was the effect of artificial vestibular stimulation, which is frequently used in vestibular research and treatment. For this, I analysed functional network connectivity in healthy participants. I found that short-term vestibular stimulation does not cause a cortical functional reorganisation, although a nociceptive stimulus, which was matched for the somatosensory component of this stimulation, led to a reorganisation. The fact that cortical reorganisation does not occur during exclusively vestibular stimulation may reflect subconscious nature of vestibular processing in that it does not induce a different internal brain state. On the medium-term time scale, I investigated whole-brain structural changes as a result of gravity. Astronauts that travel to space for extended periods of time experience several physiological symptoms also affecting the fluid exchange of the brain. To characterise if these fluid exchanges also affect size of the spaces around brain blood vessels (perivascular spaces), I developed a semi-automatic detection pipeline which requires only one type of structural MR image. I found that space travellers have enlarged perivascular spaces even before their mission, when compared to a control population. These spaces were to a small extend further increased shortly after a long duration space flight of 6 months. Astronaut training thus contributes to structural changes in the whole brain in combination with long-duration space flight. This further suggests that additional contextual factors such as sleep quality should be considered in the future. Overall, in my thesis I show that investigating the whole brain during different vestibular modulations provides additional and novel insights about the underlying neural processes. I found that long-term vestibular states have an impact on functional networks, whilst short-term vestibular modulations do not seem to impact functional network organisation. In addition, I quantified the structural impact of microgravity and astronaut training in the whole brain using a new analysis pipeline. In the future, I expect that new advancements in the field of neuroimaging analysis, such as high sampling of individuals and dynamic network analysis will advance the field. This will potentially also provide new means to monitor disease progression or intervention success.
vestibular system, network analysis, fMRI, dizziness, connectivity, galvanic vestibular stimulation
Huber, Judita
2021
English
Universitätsbibliothek der Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München
Huber, Judita (2021): The impact of vestibular modulations on whole brain structure and function in humans. Dissertation, LMU München: Graduate School of Systemic Neurosciences (GSN)
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Abstract

The vestibular system is a sensory system that monitors active and passive headmovements while at the same time permanently sensing gravity. Vestibular information is important for maintaining balance and stabilisation of vision and ultimately for general orientation in space. A distributed set of cortical vestibular regions process vestibular sensory information, together with other sensory and motor signals. How these brain regions are influenced by or interact with each other, and how this depends on the context in which the system is acting is not well understood. In my research I investigated the whole brain consequences of different vestibular sensory contexts by means of structural and functional magnetic resonance (MR) imaging on three different time scales (long-term, short-term, and medium-term). For the long-term time scale, I investigated functional brain connectivity in individuals experiencing a type of chronic dizziness that cannot be explained by structural damage within the nervous system. These patients exhibit chronic or long-term alterations in their processing of vestibular information, which leads to dizziness and vertigo. I found altered sensory and cerebellar network connectivity when they experience a dizziness-provoking stimulus. These two networks contain, but are not limited to, vestibular processing regions, demonstrating the importance of a whole-brain approach. The alterations correspond the notion that these patients have dysfunctional stimulus expectations. The short-term vestibular processing I investigated was the effect of artificial vestibular stimulation, which is frequently used in vestibular research and treatment. For this, I analysed functional network connectivity in healthy participants. I found that short-term vestibular stimulation does not cause a cortical functional reorganisation, although a nociceptive stimulus, which was matched for the somatosensory component of this stimulation, led to a reorganisation. The fact that cortical reorganisation does not occur during exclusively vestibular stimulation may reflect subconscious nature of vestibular processing in that it does not induce a different internal brain state. On the medium-term time scale, I investigated whole-brain structural changes as a result of gravity. Astronauts that travel to space for extended periods of time experience several physiological symptoms also affecting the fluid exchange of the brain. To characterise if these fluid exchanges also affect size of the spaces around brain blood vessels (perivascular spaces), I developed a semi-automatic detection pipeline which requires only one type of structural MR image. I found that space travellers have enlarged perivascular spaces even before their mission, when compared to a control population. These spaces were to a small extend further increased shortly after a long duration space flight of 6 months. Astronaut training thus contributes to structural changes in the whole brain in combination with long-duration space flight. This further suggests that additional contextual factors such as sleep quality should be considered in the future. Overall, in my thesis I show that investigating the whole brain during different vestibular modulations provides additional and novel insights about the underlying neural processes. I found that long-term vestibular states have an impact on functional networks, whilst short-term vestibular modulations do not seem to impact functional network organisation. In addition, I quantified the structural impact of microgravity and astronaut training in the whole brain using a new analysis pipeline. In the future, I expect that new advancements in the field of neuroimaging analysis, such as high sampling of individuals and dynamic network analysis will advance the field. This will potentially also provide new means to monitor disease progression or intervention success.