Equilibrium in the Vertebrates: Signals, Senses, and Steering Underwater

  • Christopher Platt


A freely swimming aquatic vertebrate must orient itself, move, and navigate in the presence of gravitational, buoyant, and hydrodynamic forces. The posture assumed by the animal depends on its responses to these forces and on other sensory inputs, such as the direction of light or the presence of nearby substrate. Together, these various sensory inputs are integrated by the brain to control what is known as “equilibrium” orientation. The sensory inputs have different central importance, or “weighting,” for influencing motor centers and may induce turning movements in different directions. By analogy to a simple physical model of torque forces around a pulley, the equilibrium position results from central balancing of these weighted inputs (von Holst 1950). Such equilibrium is crucial to survival, since rapid striking or escape movements require reproducibility to be successful, and reproducibility depends on starting such a complex movement from a known spatial orientation. Locomotor function must be controlled for rotational components of roll, pitch, and yaw about the longitudinal, transverse, and vertical body axes, respectively, and linear components along the same axes.


Hair Cell Semicircular Canal Vestibular Nucleus Vestibular Input Otolith Organ 
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© Springer-Verlag New York Inc. 1988

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christopher Platt
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of AnatomyGeorgetown University Schools of Medicine and DentistryUSA

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