Physiology of peripheral neurons innervating otolith organs of the squirrel monkey. II. Directional selectivity and force-response relations

C. Fernandez, J. M. Goldberg


1. The directional selectivity of peripheral otolith neurons was studied in the barbiturate-anesthetized squirrel monkey (Saimiri sciureus). Each unit's most sensitive axis was characterized by a functional polarization vector. The direction of a centrifugal force was varied with respect to the vector and to the macular plane. The neurons respond in an excitatory manner to shearing forces orthogonally disposed to the vector. The sensitivity to orthogonal shears was usually 10-15% of the sensitivity to parallel shearing forces. There was no significant response to orthogonal compressions, nor did compressions modify the response to shearing forces. 2. Force-response functions were obtained in the stimulus range of +/- 4.92 g. Forces were directed parallel to each unit's polarization vector. The functions are sigmoid shaped and possess both inhibitory and excitatory plateaus. The presumed physiological range of +/-1 g is represented in the lower (concave upward) portion of the function and has a dynamic range, expressed in terms of response magnitude, amounting to 20-40% of the potential dynamic range of the neuron. 3. There was considerable variation among units in their +/- 4.92 g force-response curves. The salient features of the functions are described by three factors, tentatively identified as a transduction gain, a receptor bias, and a mechanical gain. Both the resting discharge (do) and the +/-1 g sensitivity (so) vary in the same direction with changes in the factors related to transduction gain and receptor bias. It is shown that this covariation provides a quantitatively precise explanation for the positive relation between do and so.