Immunolabeling patterns of the immediate early gene-related protein Fos in the gerbil brainstem were studied following stimulation of the sacculus by both hypergravity and galvanic stimulation. Head-restrained, alert animals were exposed to a prolonged (1 h) inertial vector of 2 G (19.6 m/s2) head acceleration directed in a dorso-ventral head axis to maximally stimulate the sacculus. Fos-defined immunoreactivity was quantified, and the results compared to a control group. The hypergravity stimulus produced Fos immunolabeling in the dorsomedial cell column (dmcc) of the inferior olive independently of other subnuclei. Similar dmcc labeling was induced by a 30 min galvanic stimulus of up to -100 microA applied through a stimulating electrode placed unilaterally on the bony labyrinth overlying the posterior canal (PC). The pattern of vestibular afferent firing activity induced by this galvanic stimulus was quantified in anesthetized gerbils by simultaneously recording from Scarpa's ganglion. Only saccular and PC afferent neurons exhibited increases in average firing rates of 200-300%, suggesting a pattern of current spread involving only PC and saccular afferent neurons at this level of stimulation. These results suggest that alteration in saccular afferent firing rates are sufficient to induce Fos-defined genomic activation of the dmcc, and lend further evidence to the existence of a functional vestibulo-olivary-cerebellar pathway of adaptation to novel gravito-inertial environments.