Journal of Neurophysiology

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Response of pontomedullary reticulospinal neurons to vestibular stimuli in vertical planes. Role in vertical vestibulospinal reflexes of the decerebrate cat

P. S. Bolton, T. Goto, R. H. Schor, V. J. Wilson, Y. Yamagata, B. J. Yates


1. To investigate the neural substrate of vestibulospinal reflexes in decerebrate cats, we studied the responses of pontomedullary reticulospinal neurons to natural stimulation of the labyrinth in vertical planes. Our principal aim was to determine whether reticulospinal neurons that terminate in, or are likely to give off collaterals to, the upper cervical segments had properties similar to those of the vestibulocollic reflex (VCR). 2. Antidromic stimulation was used to determine whether the neurons projected to the neck, lower cervical, thoracic, or lumbar levels. Dynamics of the responses of spontaneously firing neurons were studied with sinusoidal stimuli delivered at 0.05-1 Hz and aligned to the plane of body rotation, that produced maximal modulation of the neuron (response vector orientation). Each neuron was assigned a vestibular input classification of otolith, vertical canal, otolith + canal, or spatial-temporal convergence (STC). 3. We found, in agreement with previous studies, that the largest fraction of pontomedullary reticulospinal neurons projected to the lumbar cord, and that only a small number ended in the neck segments. Neurons projecting to all levels of the spinal cord had similar responses to labyrinth stimulation. 4. Reticulospinal neurons that received only vertical canal inputs were rare (1 of 67 units). Most reticulospinal neurons (48%) received predominant otolith inputs, 18% received otolith + canal input, and only 9% had STC behavior. These data are in sharp contrast to the results of our previous studies of vestibulospinal neurons. A considerable portion of vestibulospinal neurons receives vertical canal input (38%), fewer receive predominantly otolith input (22%), whereas the proportion that have otolith + canal input or STC behavior is similar to our present reticulospinal data. 5. The response vector orientations of our reticulospinal neurons, particularly those with canal inputs (canal, otolith + canal, STC) were predominantly in the roll quadrants. There was no evidence of convergence of inputs from like canals across the midline (e.g., right anterior + left anterior). 6. Two characteristics of the VCR, STC behavior and bilateral input from symmetric vertical canals (in some muscles), cannot be accounted for by the reticulospinal neurons that we studied. Because these characteristics are also not seen in vestibulocollic neurons, they are likely to be the result of the appropriate convergence of vestibular signals in the spinal cord. 7. Pontomedullary reticulospinal neurons seem particularly well suited to play a role in gravity-dependent postural reflexes of neck and limbs.