• cat;
  • GABA immunoreactivity;
  • GABAergic system;
  • post-lesion changes;
  • unilateral vestibular neurectomy;
  • vestibular nuclei complex


Recent neurochemical investigations of the central vestibular pathways have demonstrated that several neurotransmitters are involved in various operations required for stabilizing posture and gaze. Neurons of the vestibular nuclei (VN) receive GABAergic inhibitory afferents, and GABAergic neurons distributed throughout the vestibular complex are implicated in inhibitory vestibulo-ocular and vestibulo-spinal pathways. The aim of this study was to analyse the modifications of GABA immunoreactivity (GABA-ir) in the cat VN after unilateral vestibular neurectomy (UVN). Indeed, compensation of vestibular deficits is a good model for studying adult central nervous system (CNS) plasticity and the GABAergic system is involved in CNS plasticity. We studied GABA-ir by using a purified polyclonal antibody raised against GABA. Light microscopic preparations of thin (20 µm) sections of cat VN were used to quantify GABA-ir by an image analysing system measuring GABA-positive punctate structures and the number of GABA-positive neurons. Both the lesioned and intact sides were analysed in three populations of UVN cats killed at different times after injury (1 week, 3 weeks and 1 year). These data were compared to those collected in normal unlesioned and sham-operated cats. Results showed a spatial distribution of GABA-ir in the control cats that confirmed previous studies. GABA-ir neurons, fibres and nerve terminals were scattered in all parts of the VN. A higher concentration of GABA-positive neurons (small cells) was detected in the medial and inferior VN (MVN and IVN) and in the dorsal part of the lateral VN (LVNd). A higher level of GABA-positive punctate strutures was observed in the MVN and in the prepositus hypoglossi (PH) nucleus. Lesion-induced changes were found at each survival time. One week after injury the number of GABA-positive neurons was significantly increased in the MVN, the IVN and the dorsal part of the LVN on the lesioned side and in the ventral part of the LVN on the intact side. One year later a bilateral increase in GABA-positive neurons was detected in the MVN whilst a bilateral decrease was observed in both the SVN and the ventral part of the LVN. Changes in the GABA-staining varicosities did not strictly coincide with the distribution of GABA-ir cells, suggesting that GABA-ir fibres and nerve terminals were also modified. One week and later after injury, higher GABA-staining varicosities were seen unilaterally in the ipsilateral MVN. In contrast, bilateral increases (in PH) and bilateral decreases (in SVN and the ventral part of the LVN) were recorded in the nearly (3 weeks) or fully (1 year) compensated cats. At this stage GABA-staining varicosities were significantly increased in the lesioned side of the MVN. These findings demonstrate the reorganization of the GABAergic system in the VN and its possible role in recovery process after UVN in the cat. The changes seen during the acute stage could be causally related to the VN neuron deafferentation, contributing to the static vestibular deficits. Those found in the compensated cats would be more functionaly implicated in the dynamic aspects of vestibular compensation.