Excitatory and inhibitory synapses may control neuronal output through a push-pull mechanism--that is, increases in excitation are coupled to simultaneous decreases in inhibition or vice versa. This pattern of activity is characteristic of excitatory and inhibitory vestibulospinal axons that mediate vestibulocollic reflexes. Previously, we showed that medial vestibulospinal tract (MVST) neurons in the rostral descending vestibular nucleus (DVN), an excitatory pathway, primarily innervate the medial dendrites of contralateral splenius motoneurons. In the present study, we tested the hypothesis that the counterparts of the push-pull mechanism, the ipsilateral inhibitory MVST synapses, are distributed on the dendritic tree such that the interactions with excitatory MVST synapses are enhanced. We combined anterograde tracing and intracellular staining in adult felines and show that most contacts (approximately 70%) between inhibitory MVST neurons in the rostral DVN and ipsilateral splenius motoneurons are also located on medial dendrites. There was a weak bias towards proximal dendrites. Using computational methods, we further show that the organization of excitatory and inhibitory MVST synapses on splenius motoneurons increases their likelihood for interaction. We found that if either excitatory or inhibitory MVST synapses were uniformly distributed throughout the dendritic tree, the proportion of inhibitory contacts in close proximity to excitatory contacts decreased. Thus, the compartmentalized distribution of excitatory and inhibitory MVST synapses on splenius motoneurons may be specifically designed to enhance their interactions during vestibulocollic reflexes. This suggests that the push-pull modulation of motoneuron output is based, in part, on the spatial arrangement of synapses on the dendritic tree.
2010. Published by Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.