The limbs constitute the sole interface with the ground during most waking activities in mammalian species; it is therefore expected that somatosensory inputs from the limbs provide important information to the central nervous system for balance control. In the decerebrate cat model, the activity of a subset of neurons in the vestibular nuclei (VN) has been previously shown to be modulated by hindlimb movement. However, decerebration can profoundly alter the effects of sensory inputs on the activity of brain stem neurons, resulting in epiphenomenal responses. Thus, before this study, it was unclear whether and how somatosensory inputs from the limb affected the activity of VN neurons in conscious animals. We recorded brain stem neuronal activity in the conscious cat and characterized the responses of VN neurons to flexion and extension hindlimb movements and to whole body vertical tilts (vestibular stimulation). Among 96 VN neurons whose activity was modulated by vestibular stimulation, the firing rate of 65 neurons (67.7%) was also affected by passive hindlimb movement. VN neurons in conscious cats most commonly encoded hindlimb movement irrespective of the direction of movement (n = 33, 50.8%), in that they responded to all flexion and extension movements of the limb. Other VN neurons overtly encoded information about the direction of hindlimb movement (n = 27, 41.5%), and the remainder had more complex responses. These data confirm that hindlimb somatosensory and vestibular inputs converge onto VN neurons of the conscious cat, suggesting that VN neurons integrate somatosensory inputs from the limbs in computations that affect motor outflow to maintain balance.
- multisensory integration
- Copyright © 2016 the American Physiological Society
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