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Keywords:

  • vestibular semicircular canal;
  • vestibular primary afferent

Abstract

The efferent vestibular nuclei and nerves were studied in the toadfish, Opsanus tau, with morphological and electrophysiological techniques. The origin and course of the efferent vestibular nerves was extensively documented. One major morphological observation was that the efferent nerves comprise a peripheral network that is anatomically distinct, and separable by dissection from the primary afferents innervated by each end organ. These anatomically distinct nerves are likely to be a major asset in physiological studies of efferent vestibular function. The retrograde transport of horseradish peroxidase (HRP) from each of the nerves innervating the vestibular and lateral line organs was used to delineate the subgroups of efferent neurons projecting to these end organs. The efferent vestibular nuclei are located in the posterior medulla in and around the median longitudinal fasiculi (MLF). We divided the nuclei cytoarchitecturally into lateral, medial, and' dorsal subdivisions. The lateral cells had bilateral dendritic trees while the dorsal cells had ipsilateral, unilateral dendritic trees. There was a higher proportion of lateral cells that innervated the canal organs and the utricle while the dorsal cells tended to innervate the other organs. The total number of cells obtained by summing those from separate nerve label was twice the total cell count present in the nuclei. Indirectly, this indicates that some cells project to more than one end organ. Efferent neurons were penetrated with glass microelectrodes, and their end organs and patterns of connectivity with other end organs were investigated by stimulating various vestibular nerves. Posterior semicircular canal efferent cells are electrically coupled to each other and could be activated electrically or chemically by stimulating other ipsilateral or contralateral vestibular nerves. It is suggested that electrical coupling might be responsible for the uniform behavior of these cells under certain conditions. Morphological and physiological experiments suggested that the semicircular canals are innervated by their own, exclusive populations of efferent neurons while other end organs may share efferent innervation. Single cells were injected intracellularly with HRP and their morphology was studied and characterized by light microscopy. Intracellular label confirmed the morphological features demonstrated by retrograde transport of HRP and also revealed that some cells had central axon collaterals that terminated within the MLF. These morphological and physiological results provide a basis for understanding the behavior of efferent vestibular neurons in the alert animal.