• cat;
  • extraocular muscles;
  • guinea pig;
  • modern human;
  • mouse;
  • rabbit;
  • rat;
  • semicircular canals;
  • squirrel;
  • vestibulo-ocular reflex


The vestibulo-ocular reflex (VOR) exacts compensatory movements of the extraocular muscles in response to stimulation of the semicircular canals to allow gaze fixation during head movements. In this study, the spatial relationships of these muscles and canals were investigated to assess their relative alignments in mammalian species commonly used in studies of the VOR. The head region of each specimen was scanned using magnetic resonance imaging and 28 anatomical landmarks were recorded from the images to define the six extraocular muscles and the anatomical planes of the three semicircular canals. The vector rotation of a semicircular canal that does not stimulate either of its two sister canals, referred to as the prime direction, was also calculated as an estimate of the maximal response plane. Significant misalignments were found between the extraocular muscles and the canals by which they are principally stimulated in most of the species under study. The deviations from parallel orientation were most pronounced in the human and rabbit samples. There were also significant departures from orthogonality between the semicircular canals in most species. Only the guinea pig displayed no significant difference from 90° in any of its three inter-canal angles, although humans and rabbits deviated from orthogonality in just one semicircular canal pair – the anterior and posterior canals. The prime directions were found to deviate considerably from the anatomical canal planes (by over 20° in rats). However, these deviations were not always compensatory, i.e. prime planes were not always more closely aligned with the muscle planes. Results support the view that the vestibular frame remains relatively stable and that the spatial mismatch with the extraocular co-ordinate frame is principally driven by realignment of the muscles as a result of changes in the position of the orbits within the skull (orbital convergence and frontation).