While some aspects of neuroanatomical organization are related to packing and access rather than to function, other aspects of anatomical/physiological organization are directly related to function. The mathematics of symmetry groups can be used to determine logical structure in projections and to relate it to function. This paper reviews two studies of the symmetry groups of vestibular projections that are related to the spatial functions of the vestibular complex, including gaze, posture, and movement. These logical structures have been determined by finding symmetry groups of two vestibular projections directly from physiological and anatomical data. Logical structures in vestibular projections are distinct from mapping properties such as the ability to maintain two- and three-dimensional coordinate systems; rather, they provide anatomical/physiological foundations for these mapping properties. The symmetry group of the direct projection from the semicircular canal primary afferents to neck motor neurons is that of the cube (O, the octahedral group), which can serve as a discrete skeleton for coordinate systems in three-dimensional space. The symmetry group of the canal projection from the secondary vestibular afferents to the inferior olive and thence to the cerebellar uvula-nodulus is that of the square (D8), which can support coordinates for the horizontal plane. While the mathematical relationship between these symmetry groups and functions of the vestibular complex are clear, these studies open a larger question: what is the causal logic by which neural centers and their intrinsic organization affect each other and behavior? The relationship of vestibular projection symmetry groups to spatial function make them ideal projections for investigating this causal logic. The symmetry group results are discussed in relationship to possible ways they communicate spatial structure to other neural centers and format spatial functions such as body movements. These two projection symmetry groups suggest that all vestibular projections may have symmetry groups significantly related to function, perhaps all to spatial function.
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/gin_mccollum/6/