Journal of Neurophysiology

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Morphological correlates of response dynamics and efferent stimulation in horizontal semicircular canal afferents of the toadfish, Opsanus tau

R. Boyle, J. P. Carey, S. M. Highstein


1. We used the intraaxonal labeling technique to study correlations between the terminal dendritic morphology of horizontal semicircular canal primary afferents and their response dynamics to sinusoidal head rotation and combined electrical stimulation of central efferent vestibular neurons. Thirty-eight canal afferents were identified by their sensitivity and phase of response to rotation between 0.1 and 1.0 Hz (+/- 10 degrees/s) and were subsequently labeled with horseradish peroxidase or biocytin. The afferent's dendritic field and synaptic specializations in the neuroepithelium of the crista were examined under light microscopy. 2. Rate and regularity of background discharge of the afferent were not correlated with its axon diameter or relative location of its dendritic field in the crista. 3. Response sensitivity of the afferent to rotation was correlated both with the relative location of its dendritic field in the crista and with the number of terminal endings it possesses. Afferents having low sensitivities, slow dynamics, and few terminal endings supply the peripheral portions of the crista; afferents with higher sensitivities, faster dynamics, and greater number of terminal endings supply the more central portions. It is suggested that the differences in sensitivity among the afferents reflect principally the variations in both the cupular dynamics along the crista and the number of possible hair cell contact sites in the neuroepithelium. 4. Response phase of the afferent was correlated only with the extent of its dendritic processes along the transverse axis of the crista. Afferents having transversely oriented dendritic fields had less phase lags relative to acceleration than did those having a more longitudinally oriented dendritic field. 5. Efferent stimulation produced a change in both the afferent's discharge rate and its response sensitivity to rotation. Afferents discharge rate and its response sensitivity to rotation. Afferents having a centrally located dendritic field and acceleration afferents, defined by their response to rotation, were the most affected by efferent stimulation. These results suggest that efferent innervation is either directed toward, or most efficacious in, the central regions of the crista and that it may select specific hair cell-afferent complexes.