What is the cupulolithiasis theory of the pathogenesis of benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV)?

Updated: Mar 13, 2020
  • Author: John C Li, MD; Chief Editor: Arlen D Meyers, MD, MBA  more...
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In 1962, Harold Schuknecht, MD, proposed the cupulolithiasis (heavy cupula) theory as an explanation for BPPV. Via photomicrographs, he discovered basophilic particles or densities that were adherent to the cupula. He postulated that the posterior semicircular canal (PSC) was rendered sensitive to gravity by these abnormal dense particles attached to or impinging upon the cupula.

This theory is analogous to the situation of a heavy object attached to the top of a pole. The extra weight makes the pole unstable and thus harder to keep in the neutral position. In fact, the pole is easily prone to "clunk" from one side to the other depending on the direction it is tilted. Once the position is reached, the weight of the particles keeps the cupula from springing back to neutral. This is reflected by the persistent nystagmus and explains the dizziness when a patient is tilted backward.

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