The first part of this review deals with recent advances in the understanding of biochemical mechanisms of otoconial morphogenesis. Most important in this regard is the molecular characterization of otoconin 90, the principal matrix protein of mammalian calcitic otoconia, which was found to be a homologue of the phospholytic enzyme PLA2. The unique and unexpected expression pattern of this protein required radical rethinking of traditional concepts. The new data, when integrated with existing information, provide a rational basis for an explanation of the mechanisms leading to crystal nucleation and growth. Based on this information, a hypothetical model is presented that posits interaction of otoconin 90 with microvesicles derived from the supporting cells as a key event in the formation of otoconia. The second part of the review is directed at the controversial subject of maintenance of mature otoconia and systematically analyzes the available indirect information on this topic. A synthesis of these theoretical considerations is viewed in relation to the pathogenesis of the important otoneurologic entities of BPPN and senile otoconial degeneration. The last part of the review deals with several animal models that promise to help elucidate normal and abnormal mechanisms of otoconial morphogenesis, including mineral deficiencies, mutations with selective otoconial agenesis, as well as targeted disruption of essential genes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)162-178
Number of pages17
JournalAnnals of the New York Academy of Sciences
StatePublished - 2001


  • Benign paroxysmal positional nystagmus
  • Morphogenesis
  • Otoconia
  • Senile otoconial degeneration


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