Developmental changes in head movement kinematics during swimming in Xenopus laevis tadpoles.
Our knowledge of the vestibular sensory system, its functional significance for gaze and posture stabilization, and its capability to ensure accurate spatial orientation perception and spatial navigation has greatly benefitted from experimental approaches using a variety of vertebrate species. This review summarizes the attempts to establish the roles of semicircular canal and otolith endorgans in these functions followed by an overview of the most relevant fields of vestibular research including major findings that have advanced our understanding of how this system exerts its influence on reflexive and cognitive challenges encountered during daily life. In particular, we highlight the contributions of different animal models and the advantage of using a comparative research approach. Cross-species comparisons have established that the morpho-physiological properties underlying vestibular signal processing are evolutionarily inherent, thereby disclosing general principles. Based on the documented success of this approach, we suggest that future research employing a balanced spectrum of standard animal models such as fish/frog, mouse and primate will optimize our progress in understanding vestibular processing in health and disease. Moreover, we propose that this should be further supplemented by research employing more “exotic” species that offer unique experimental access and/or have specific vestibular adaptations due to unusual locomotor capabilities or lifestyles. Taken together this strategy will expedite our understanding of the basic principles underlying vestibular computations to reveal relevant translational aspects. Accordingly, studies employing animal models are indispensible and even mandatory for the development of new treatments, medication and technical aids (implants) for patients with vestibular pathologies.