Segmental Patterns of Vestibular-Mediated Synaptic Inputs to Axial and Limb Motoneurons in the Neonatal Mouse Assessed by Optical Recording

J Physiol. 2010 Dec 15;588(Pt 24):4905-25. doi: 10.1113/jphysiol.2010.195644. Epub 2010 Oct 20.


Proper control of movement and posture occurs partly via descending projections from the vestibular nuclei to spinal motor circuits. Days before birth in rodents, vestibulospinal neurons develop axonal projections that extend to the spinal cord. How functional these projections are just after birth is unknown. Our goal was to assess the overall functional organization of vestibulospinal inputs to spinal motoneurons in a brainstem-spinal cord preparation of the neonatal mouse (postnatal day (P) 0-5). Using calcium imaging, we recorded responses evoked by electrical stimulation of the VIIIth nerve, in many motoneurons simultaneously throughout the spinal cord (C2, C6, T7, L2 and L5 segments), in the medial and lateral motor columns. Selective lesions in the brainstem and/or spinal cord distinguished which tracts contributed to the responses: those in the cervical cord originated primarily from the medial vestibulospinal tracts but with a substantial contribution from the lateral vestibulospinal tract; those in the thoracolumbar cord originated exclusively from the lateral vestibulospinal tract. In the thoracolumbar but not the cervical cord, excitatory commissural connections mediated vestibular responses in contralateral motoneurons. Pharmacological blockade of GABA(A) receptors showed that responses involved a convergence of excitatory and inhibitory inputs which in combination produced temporal response patterns specific for different segmental levels. Our results show that by birth vestibulospinal projections in rodents have already established functional synapses and are organized to differentially regulate activity in neck and limb motoneurons in a tract- and segment-specific pattern similar to that in adult mammals. Thus, this particular set of descending projections develops several key features of connectivity appropriately at prenatal stages. We also present novel information about vestibulospinal inputs to axial motoneurons in mammals, providing a more comprehensive platform for future studies into the overall organization of vestibulospinal inputs and their role in regulating postural stability.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Audiometry, Evoked Response
  • Brain Stem / pathology
  • Cerebellum / pathology
  • Electric Stimulation
  • Electrophysiology
  • GABA-A Receptor Antagonists / pharmacology
  • Mephenesin / pharmacology
  • Mice
  • Motor Neurons / physiology*
  • Synapses / physiology*
  • Vestibule, Labyrinth / physiology*
  • Vestibulocochlear Nerve / physiology


  • GABA-A Receptor Antagonists
  • Mephenesin