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Keywords:

  • macula;
  • vestibular nuclei;
  • vestibular cerebellum

ABSTRACT

Perception of linear acceleration and head position is the function of the utricle and saccule in mammals. Nonmammalian vertebrates possess a third otolith endorgan, the macula lagena. Different functions have been ascribed to the lagena in arboreal birds, including hearing, equilibrium, homing behavior, and magnetoreception. However, no conclusive evidence on the function of the lagena in birds is currently available. The present study is aimed at providing a neuroanatomical substrate for the function of the lagena in the chicken as an example of terrestrial birds. The afferents from the lagena of chick embryos (E19) to the brainstem and cerebellum were investigated by the sensitive lipophilic tracer Neuro Vue Red in postfixed ears. The results revealed that all the main vestibular nuclei, including the tangential nucleus, received lagenar projections. No lagenar terminals were found in auditory centers, including the cochlear nuclei. In the cerebellum, the labeled terminals were found variably in all of the cerebellar nuclei. In the cerebellar cortex, the labeled fibers were found mostly in the uvula, with fewer afferents in the flocculus and paraflocculus. None was seen in the nodulus. The absence of lagenar afferent projections in auditory nuclei and the presence of a projection pattern in the vestibular nuclei and cerebellum similar to that of the utricle and saccule suggest that the primary role of the lagena in the chick lies in the processing of vestibular information related to linear acceleration and static head position. J. Comp. Neurol. 521:3524-3540, 2013. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.