Cellular-Resolution Imaging of Vestibular Processing across the Larval Zebrafish Brain

Curr Biol. 2018 Dec 3;28(23):3711-3722.e3. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2018.09.060. Epub 2018 Nov 15.


The vestibular system, which reports on motion and gravity, is essential to postural control, balance, and egocentric representations of movement and space. The motion needed to stimulate the vestibular system complicates studying its circuitry, so we previously developed a method for fictive vestibular stimulation in zebrafish, using optical trapping to apply physical forces to the otoliths. Here, we combine this approach with whole-brain calcium imaging at cellular resolution, delivering a comprehensive map of the brain regions and cellular responses involved in basic vestibular processing. We find responses broadly distributed across the brain, with unique profiles of cellular responses and topography in each region. The most widespread and abundant responses involve excitation that is graded to the stimulus strength. Other responses, localized to the telencephalon and habenulae, show excitation that is only weakly correlated to stimulus strength and that is sensitive to weak stimuli. Finally, numerous brain regions contain neurons that are inhibited by vestibular stimuli, and these neurons are often tightly localized spatially within their regions. By exerting separate control over the left and right otoliths, we explore the laterality of brain-wide vestibular processing, distinguishing between neurons with unilateral and bilateral vestibular sensitivity and revealing patterns whereby conflicting signals from the ears mutually cancel. Our results confirm previously identified vestibular responses in specific regions of the larval zebrafish brain while revealing a broader and more extensive network of vestibular responsive neurons than has previously been described. This provides a departure point for more targeted studies of the underlying functional circuits.

Keywords: GCaMP; SPIM; calcium imaging; optical physics; optical trapping; otolith; selective planar illumination microscopy; sensory processing; vestibular system; zebrafish.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Functional Laterality
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Optical Tweezers
  • Otolithic Membrane / physiology*
  • Vestibule, Labyrinth / physiology*
  • Zebrafish / growth & development
  • Zebrafish / physiology*