Intrinsic membrane properties of vertebrate vestibular neurons: function, development and plasticity

Prog Neurobiol. 2005 Aug;76(6):349-92. doi: 10.1016/j.pneurobio.2005.10.002. Epub 2005 Nov 2.


Central vestibular neurons play an important role in the processing of body motion-related multisensory signals and their transformation into motor commands for gaze and posture control. Over recent years, medial vestibular nucleus (MVN) neurons and to a lesser extent other vestibular neurons have been extensively studied in vivo and in vitro, in a range of species. These studies have begun to reveal how their intrinsic electrophysiological properties may relate to their response patterns, discharge dynamics and computational capabilities. In vitro studies indicate that MVN neurons are of two major subtypes (A and B), which differ in their spike shape and after-hyperpolarizations. This reflects differences in particular K(+) conductances present in the two subtypes, which also affect their response dynamics with type A cells having relatively low-frequency dynamics (resembling "tonic" MVN cells in vivo) and type B cells having relatively high-frequency dynamics (resembling "kinetic" cells in vivo). The presence of more than one functional subtype of vestibular neuron seems to be a ubiquitous feature since vestibular neurons in the chick and frog also subdivide into populations with different, analogous electrophysiological properties. The ratio of type A to type B neurons appears to be plastic, and may be determined by the signal processing requirements of the vestibular system, which are species-variant. The membrane properties and discharge pattern of type A and type B MVN neurons develop largely post-natally, through the expression of the underlying ion channel conductances. The membrane properties of MVN neurons show rapid and long-lasting plastic changes after deafferentation (unilateral labyrinthectomy), which may serve to maintain their level of activity and excitability after the loss of afferent inputs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology
  • Animals
  • Cell Membrane / physiology*
  • Cell Membrane / ultrastructure
  • Fixation, Ocular / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Membrane Potentials / physiology
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Neurons / cytology
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Posture / physiology
  • Reflex, Vestibulo-Ocular / physiology*
  • Vertebrates
  • Vestibular Nuclei / cytology
  • Vestibular Nuclei / embryology*
  • Vestibular Nuclei / physiology*