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The mission of the laboratory of vestibular neurophysiology is to advance the understanding of how the body perceives head motion and maintains balance - a complex and vital function of everyday life.
Work in this lab seeks to define the physiology of the vestibular system, which informs the brain about the body's motion and orientation. The vestibular part of the inner ear contains receptors that gather information about the movement of the head. The brain combines this information with signals from the eye and from the sense of touch to assemble a perception of how the body is moving through space. The body responds to this perceived movement with reflexes that maintain balance. For instance, turning your head leads to reflex eye movements that enable you to keep looking steadily ahead. Tilting your head to one side (as might happen when you begin to fall) causes reflexes leg muscle contractions that keep you standing.
Although much is known about the vestibular part of the inner ear, key aspects of how the vestibular receptors perceive, process and report essential information are still mysterious. Increasing our understanding of this process will have tremendous impact on quality of life of patients with vestibular disorders, who often suffer terrible discomfort from dizziness and vertigo.
The laboratory group's basic science research focuses on the vestibulo-ocular reflexes - the reflexes that move the eyes in response to motions of the head. They do this by studying the vestibular sensors and nerve cells that provide input to the reflexes; by studying eye movements in humans and animals with different vestibular disorders, by studying effects of electrical stimulation of vestibular sensors, and by using mathematical models to describe these reflexes. Researchers are particularly interested in abnormalities of the brain's inability to compensate for vestibular disorders.
The lab's staff includes many clinicians who provide direct patient care, including neuro-otologic surgeons, neurologists, and rehabilitation therapists. Because a central goal of their work is translating scientific discovery into advances in the diagnosis and treatment of patients, the questions driving the laboratory research often stem from interactions with patients in the clinic. Their work has led to the development of a new and effective surgery for the balance disorder called superior canal dehiscence syndrome and has helped optimize treatment for the disabling condition known as Ménière's disease.
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