• mossy fibers;
  • semicircular canals;
  • otoliths;
  • vestibulospinal tracts;
  • vestibular nuclear complex


Information about the position and movement of the head in space is coded by vestibular receptors and relayed to four nuclei that comprise the vestibular nuclear complex (VNC). Many additional brainstem nuclei are involved in the processing of vestibular information, receiving signals either directly from the eighth nerve or indirectly via projections from the VNC. In cats, squirrel monkeys, and macaque monkeys, we found neurochemically defined subdivisions within the medial vestibular nucleus (MVe) and within the functionally related nucleus prepositus hypoglossi (PrH). In humans, different studies disagree about the borders, sizes, and possible subdivisions of the vestibular brainstem. In an attempt to clarify this organization, we have begun an analysis of the neurochemical characteristics of the human using brains from the Witelson Normal Brain Collection and standard techniques for antigen retrieval and immunohistochemistry. Using antibodies to calbindin, calretinin, parvalbumin, and nitric oxide synthase, we find neurochemically defined subdivisions within the MVe similar to the subdivisions described in cats and monkeys. The neurochemical organization of PrH is different. We also find unique neurochemical profiles for several structures that suggest reclassification of nuclei. These data suggest both quantitative and qualitative differences among cats, monkeys, and humans in the organization of the vestibular brainstem. These results have important implications for the analysis of changes in that organization subsequent to aging, disease, or loss of input. J. Comp. Neurol. 518:872–895, 2010. © 2009 Wiley-Liss, Inc.