Three-dimensional visualization of the human membranous labyrinth: The membrana limitans and its role in vestibular form

Christopher M. Smith, Ian S. Curthoys, Payal Mukherjee, Christopher Wong, Jeffrey T. Laitman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


The inner ear contains the end organs for balance (vestibular labyrinth) and hearing (cochlea). The vestibular labyrinth is comprised of the semicircular canals (detecting angular acceleration) and otolith organs (utricle and saccule, which detect linear acceleration and head tilt relative to gravity). Lying just inferior to the utricle is the membranous membrana limitans (ML). Acting as a keystone to vestibular geometry, the ML provides support for the utricular macula and acts as a structural boundary between the superior (pars superior) and inferior (pars inferior) portions of the vestibular labyrinth. Given its importance in vestibular form, understanding ML morphology is valuable in establishing the spatial organization of other vestibular structures, particularly the utricular macula. Knowledge of the 3D structure and variation of the ML, however, remain elusive. Our study addresses this knowledge gap by visualizing, in 3D, the ML and surrounding structures using micro-CT data. By doing so, we attempt to clarify: (a) the variation of ML shape; (b) the reliability of ML attachment sites; and (c) the spatial relationship of the ML to the stapes footplate using landmark-based Generalized Procrustes, Principal Component and covariance analyses. Results indicate a consistent configuration of three distinct bony ML attachments including an anterolateral, medial, and posterior attachment which all covary with bony structure. Our results set the stage for further understanding into vestibular and more specifically, utricular macula spatial configuration within the human head, offering the potential to aid in clinical and evolutionary studies which rely on a 3D understanding of vestibular spatial configuration.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1037-1050
Number of pages14
JournalAnatomical Record
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2022


  • balance
  • bony labyrinth
  • inner ear
  • membrana limitans
  • vestibular system


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