Journal of Fluid Mechanics

A singular perturbation model of fluid dynamics in the vestibular semicircular canal and ampulla

E. R.  Damiano a1p1 and R. D.  Rabbitt a1
a1 Department of Bioengineering, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT 84112, USA

Article author query
damiano er   [Google Scholar] 
rabbitt rd   [Google Scholar] 


A matched asymptotic analysis is presented that describes the mechanical response of the vestibular semicircular canals to rotation of the head and includes the fluid–structure interaction which takes place within the enlarged ampullary region of the duct. New theoretical results detail the velocity field in a fluid boundary layer surrounding the cupula. The governing equations were linearized for small perturbations in fluid displacement from the prescribed motion of the head and reduced asymptotically by exploiting the slender geometry of the duct. The results include the pressure drop around the three-dimensional endolymphatic duct and through the transitional boundary layers within the ampulla. Results implicitly include the deflected shape of the cupular partition and provide an expression for the dynamic boundary condition acting on the two surfaces of the cupula. In this sense, the analysis reduces the three-dimensional fluid dynamics of the endolymph to a relatively simple boundary condition acting on the surfaces of the cupula. For illustrative purposes we present specific results modelling the cupula as a simple viscoelastic membrane. New results show that the multi-dimensional fluid dynamics within the enlarged ampulla has a significant influence on the pointwise deflection of the cupula near the crista. The spatially averaged displacement of the cupula is shown to agree with previous macromechanical descriptions of endolymph flow and pressure that ignore the fluid–structure interaction at the cupula. As an example, the model is applied to the geometry of the horizontal semicircular canal of the toadfish, Opsanus tau, and results for the deflection of the cupula are compared to individual semicircular canal afferent responses previously reported by Boyle & Highstein (1990). The cupular-shear-angle gain, defined by the angular slope of the cupula at the crista divided by the angular velocity of the head, is relatively constant at frequencies from 0.01 Hz up to 1 Hz. Over this same range, the phase of the cupular shear angle aligns with the angular velocity of the head. Near 10 Hz, the shear-angle gain increases slightly and the phase shows a lead of as much a 30°. Results are sensitive to the cupular stiffness and viscosity. Comparing results to the afferent responses represented within the VIIIth nerve provides additional theoretical evidence that the macromechanical displacement of the cupula accounts for the behaviour of only a subset of afferent fibres.

(Published Online April 26 2006)
(Received August 9 1994)
(Revised September 22 1995)

p1 Current address: Department of Biomedical Engineering, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA 22908, USA.

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