Insights into Inner Ear Function and Disease Through Novel Visualization of the Ductus Reuniens, a Seminal Communication Between Hearing and Balance Mechanisms

Christopher M. Smith, Ian S. Curthoys, Stefan K. Plontke, Matthias Menzel, Payal Mukherjee, Christopher Wong, Jeffrey T. Laitman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

The sensory end-organs responsible for hearing and balance in the mammalian inner ear are connected via a small membranous duct known as the ductus reuniens (also known as the reuniting duct (DR)). The DR serves as a vital nexus linking the hearing and balance systems by providing the only endolymphatic connection between the cochlea and vestibular labyrinth. Recent studies have hypothesized new roles of the DR in inner ear function and disease, but a lack of knowledge regarding its 3D morphology and spatial configuration precludes testing of such hypotheses. We reconstructed the 3D morphology of the DR and surrounding anatomy using osmium tetroxide micro-computed tomography and digital visualizations of three human inner ear specimens. This provides a detailed, quantitative description of the DR’s morphology, spatial relationships to surrounding structures, and an estimation of its orientation relative to head position. Univariate measurements of the DR, inner ear, and cranial planes were taken using the software packages 3D Slicer and Zbrush. The DR forms a narrow, curved, flattened tube varying in lumen size, shape, and wall thickness, with its middle third being the narrowest. The DR runs in a shallow bony sulcus superior to the osseus spiral lamina and adjacent to a ridge of bone that we term the “crista reuniens” oriented posteromedially within the cranium. The DR’s morphology and structural configuration relative to surrounding anatomy has important implications for understanding aspects of inner ear function and disease, particularly after surgical alteration of the labyrinth and potential causative factors for Ménière’s disease.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)633-645
Number of pages13
JournalJARO - Journal of the Association for Research in Otolaryngology
Volume23
Issue number5
DOIs
StatePublished - Oct 2022

Keywords

  • Cochlea
  • Ductus reuniens
  • Inner ear
  • Membranous labyrinth
  • Otolith organs
  • Vestibular system

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