Question:

What is the main purpose of the semi-circular canals in a human's inner ear?

Answer:

The semicircular canals are a key part of the vestibular system and allow for maintenance of balance when the head or body rotates

More Info:

The inner ear is the innermost part of the vertebrate ear. In vertebrates, the inner ear is mainly responsible for sound detection and balance. In mammals, it consists of the bony labyrinth, a hollow cavity in the temporal bone of the skull with a system of passages comprising two main functional parts:

The inner ear is found in all vertebrates, with substantial variations in form and function. The inner ear is innervated by the eighth cranial nerve in all vertebrates.

Anatomy Ear

The nervous system is the part of an animal's body that coordinates the voluntary and involuntary actions of the animal and transmits signals between different parts of its body. Nervous tissue first arose in wormlike organisms about 550 to 600 million years ago. In most types of animals it consists of two main parts, the central nervous system (CNS) and the peripheral nervous system (PNS). The CNS contains the brain and spinal cord. The PNS consists mainly of nerves, which are long fibers that connect the CNS to every other part of the body. The PNS includes motor neurons, mediating voluntary movement, the autonomic nervous system, comprising the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system and regulating involuntary functions, and the enteric nervous system, a semi-independent part of the nervous system whose function is to control the gastrointestinal system.

At the cellular level, the nervous system is defined by the presence of a special type of cell, called the neuron, also known as a "nerve cell". Neurons have special structures that allow them to send signals rapidly and precisely to other cells. They send these signals in the form of electrochemical waves traveling along thin fibers called axons, which cause chemicals called neurotransmitters to be released at junctions called synapses. A cell that receives a synaptic signal from a neuron may be excited, inhibited, or otherwise modulated. The connections between neurons form neural circuits that generate an organism's perception of the world and determine its behavior. Along with neurons, the nervous system contains other specialized cells called glial cells (or simply glia), which provide structural and metabolic support.

A sensory system is a part of the nervous system responsible for processing sensory information. A sensory system consists of sensory receptors, neural pathways, and parts of the brain involved in sensory perception. Commonly recognized sensory systems are those for vision, auditory (hearing), somatic sensation (touch), gustatory (taste), olfaction (smell) and vestibular (balance/movement). In short, senses are transducers from the physical world to the realm of the mind where we interpret the information, creating our perception of the world around us.

The receptive field is the specific part of the world to which a receptor organ and receptor cells respond. For instance, the part of the world an eye can see, is its receptive field; the light that each rod or cone can see, is its receptive field. Receptive fields have been identified for the visual system, auditory system and somatosensory system, so far.

The vestibular system, which contributes to balance in most mammals and to the sense of spatial orientation, is the sensory system that provides the leading contribution about movement and sense of balance. Together with the cochlea, a part of the auditory system, it constitutes the labyrinth of the inner ear in most mammals, situated in the vestibulum in the inner ear (Figure 1). As movements consist of rotations and translations, the vestibular system comprises two components: the semicircular canal system, which indicate rotational movements; and the otoliths, which indicate linear accelerations. The vestibular system sends signals primarily to the neural structures that control eye movements, and to the muscles that keep a creature upright. The projections to the former provide the anatomical basis of the vestibulo-ocular reflex, which is required for clear vision; and the projections to the muscles that control posture are necessary to keep a creature upright.

Senses are physiological capacities of organisms that provide data for perception. The senses and their operation, classification, and theory are overlapping topics studied by a variety of fields, most notably neuroscience, cognitive psychology (or cognitive science), and philosophy of perception. The nervous system has a specific sensory system or organ, dedicated to each sense.

Humans have a multitude of senses. Sight (ophthalmoception), hearing (audioception), taste (gustaoception), smell (olfacoception or olfacception), and touch (tactioception) are the five traditionally recognized. While the ability to detect other stimuli beyond those governed by the traditional senses exists, including temperature (thermoception), kinesthetic sense (proprioception), pain (nociception), balance (equilibrioception), and various internal stimuli (e.g. the different chemoreceptors for detecting salt and carbon dioxide concentrations in the blood), only a small number of these can safely be classified as separate senses in and of themselves. What constitutes a sense is a matter of some debate, leading to difficulties in defining what exactly a sense is.

Head and neck anatomy focuses on the structures of the head and neck of the human body, including the brain, bones, muscles, blood vessels, nerves, glands, nose, mouth, teeth, tongue, and throat. It is an area frequently studied in depth by surgeons, dentists, dental technicians, and speech language pathologists.

The head is positioned upon the superior portion of the vertebral column, attaching the skull upon C-1 (the atlas). The skeletal section of the head and neck forms the superior segment of the axial skeleton and comprises skull, hyoid bone, auditory ossicles, and cervical spine. The skull can be further subdivided into:

The auditory system is the sensory system for the sense of hearing.

A semicircular canal is one of three semicircular, interconnected tubes located inside each ear. The three canals are:

The semicircular ducts provide sensory input for experiences of rotary movements. They are oriented along the pitch, roll, and yaw axes.

Vestibulocochlear dysfunction progressive familial, known also as familial progressive vestibulocochlear dysfunction is an autosomal dominant disease that results in sensorineural hearing loss and vestibular areflexia. Patients report feelings of vague dissiness, blurred vision, dysequilibrium in the dark, and progressive hearing impairment.

Reported symptoms include:

The cupula is a structure in the vestibular system, providing the sense of spatial orientation.

The cupula is located within the ampullae of each of the three semicircular canals. Part of the crista ampullaris, the cupula has embedded within it hair cells that have several stereocilia associated with each kinocilium. The cupula itself is the gelatinous component of the crista ampullaris that extends from the crista to the roof of the ampullae. When the head rotates, the endolymph filling the semicircular ducts initially lags behind due to inertia. As a result, the cupula is deflected opposite the direction of head movement. As the endolymph pushes the cupula, the stereocilia is bent as well, stimulating the hair cells within the crista ampullaris. After a short time of continual rotation however, the endolymph’s acceleration normalizes with the rate of rotation of the semicircular ducts. As a result, the cupula returns to its resting position and the hair cells cease to be stimulated. This continues until the head stops rotating which simultaneously halts semicircular duct rotation. Due to inertia however, the endolymph continues on. As the endolymph continues to move, the cupula is once again deflected resulting in the compensatory movements of the body when spun. In each of these situations, as fluid rushes by the cupula, the hair cells stimulated transmit the corresponding signal to the brain through the vestibulocochlear nerve (CN VIII)

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