Vertigo in and around magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines has been noted for years [1, 2]. Several mechanisms have been suggested to explain these sensations [3, 4], yet without direct, objective measures, the cause is unknown. We found that all of our healthy human subjects developed a robust nystagmus while simply lying in the static magnetic field of an MRI machine. Patients lacking labyrinthine function did not. We use the pattern of eye movements as a measure of vestibular stimulation to show that the stimulation is static (continuous, proportional to static magnetic field strength, requiring neither head movement nor dynamic change in magnetic field strength) and directional (sensitive to magnetic field polarity and head orientation). Our calculations and geometric model suggest that magnetic vestibular stimulation (MVS) derives from a Lorentz force resulting from interaction between the magnetic field and naturally occurring ionic currents in the labyrinthine endolymph fluid. This force pushes on the semicircular canal cupula, leading to nystagmus. We emphasize that the unique, dual role of endolymph in the delivery of both ionic current and fluid pressure, coupled with the cupula's function as a pressure sensor, makes magnetic-field-induced nystagmus and vertigo possible. Such effects could confound functional MRI studies of brain behavior, including resting-state brain activity.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
- Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)