1. Extracellular recordings were made in and around the medial vestibular nuclei in decerebrated rats. Neurons were functionally identified according to their semicircular canal input on the basis of their responses to angular head rotations around the yaw, pitch, and roll head axes. Those cells responding to angular acceleration were classified as either horizontal semicircular canal-related (HC) or vertical semicircular canal-related (VC) neurons. The HC neurons were further characterized as either type I or type II, depending on the direction of rotation producing excitation. Cells that lacked a response to angular head acceleration, but exhibited sensitivity to a change in head position, were classified as purely otolith organ-related (OTO) neurons. All vestibular neurons were then tested for their response to sinusoidal linear translation in the horizontal head plane. 2. Convergence of macular and canal inputs onto central vestibular nuclei neurons occurred in 73% of the type I HC, 79% of the type II HC, and 86% of the VC neurons. Out of the 223 neurons identified as receiving macular input, 94 neurons were further studied, and their spatiotemporal response properties to sinusoidal stimulation with pure linear acceleration were quantified. Data were obtained from 33 type I HC, 22 type II HC, 22 VC, and 17 OTO neurons. 3. For each neuron the angle of the translational stimulus vector was varied by 15, 30, or 45 degrees increments in the horizontal head plane. In all tested neurons, a direction of maximum sensitivity was identified. An interesting difference among neurons was their response to translation along the direction perpendicular to that that produced the maximum response ("null" direction). For the majority of neurons tested, it was possible to evoke a nonzero response during stimulation along the null direction always had response phases that varied as a function of stimulus direction. 4. These spatiotemporal response properties were quantified in two independent ways. First, the data were evaluated on the basis of the traditional one-dimensional principle governed by the "cosine gain rule" and constant response phase at different stimulus orientations. Second, the response gain and phase values that were empirically determined for each orientation of the applied linear stimulus vector were fitted on the basis of a newly developed formalism that treats neuronal responses as exhibiting two-dimensional spatial sensitivity. Thus two response vectors were determined for each neuron on the basis of its response gain and phase at different stimulus directions in the horizontal head plane.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)
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