The lateral vestibular nucleus of the toadfish Opsanus tau was localized by means of axonal iontophoresis of Procion Yellow. The ultrastructure of the lateral vestibular nucleus neurons was then correlated with their electrophysiological properties. The lateral vestibular nucleus consists of neurons of various sizes which are distributed in small clusters over a heavily myelinated neuropil. The perikarya and main dendrites of the large and the small neurons are surrounded by a synaptic bed, which is separated from the neighboring neuropil by a layer of thin astrocytic processes. The synaptic bed contains three main classes of axon terminals, club endings, large and small terminals, the first being quite infrequent. All the large terminals as well as the occasionally observed club endings contain a pure population of rounded synaptic vesicles. In some of the small axon terminals there are also rounded vesicles; however, the majority contain flattened vesicles or a pleomorphic population. These data indicate that the small terminals originate from different afferent sources. The synaptic interfaces of the large boutons and of the club endings bear three types of junctional complexes: attachment plates, gap junctions and active zones. Those showing both gap junctions and active zones were designated as morphologically 'mixed synapses'. Gap junctions, although in large number, have only been observed at the synaptic interfaces between terminals with rounded vesicles and the perikarya or the dendrite of the lateral vestibular nucleus neurons. Therefore electrotonic coupling would only be possible by way of presynaptic fibers. Some axons observed in the neuropil were found to establish gap junctional complexes with two different dendritec profiles and this observation is in favour of electrotonic coupling by way of presynaptic terminals. Field and intracellular potentials were recorded in the lateral vestibular nucleus. The field potential evoked by stimulation of the vestibular nerve consisted of an early positive-negative wave followed by a slow negativity, and that evoked by spinal cord stimulation was composed of an antidromic potential followed by a slow negative wave. Vestibulo-spinal neurons were identified by their antidromic spikes. In these cells, stimulation of the ipsilateral vestibular nerve evoked an excitatory postsynaptic potential with two components. The short delay of the first component of this excitatory postsynaptic potential and its ability to follow paired stimulation at close intervals without reduction of the second response suggest that it is transmitted electrotonically from primary vestibular afferent fibers. By contrast the latency of the second peak of the vestibular evoked excitatory postsynaptic potential and its sensitivity to high stimulus frequencies are compatible with monosynaptic chemically mediated transmission from primary vestibular afferents. Spinal stimulation evoked graded antidromic depolarizations in vestibulo-spinal neurons. The latency of these potentials was too short to allow for chemical transmission through afferents or recurrent collaterals and suggests electrotonic spread of antidromic activity from neighboring neurons. An important finding is that the graded antidromic depolarizations can initiate spikes; thus coupling between neurons in the lateral vestibular nucleus is sufficiently close that a cell can be excited by activity spread from neighboring cells. Similar graded depolarizations were recorded in identified primary vestibular afferents; their latencies and time course indicate that they were brought about by electrotonic spread of postsynaptic potentials and spikes to the impaled presynaptic fibers; this confirms the morphological evidence that coupling between lateral vestibular nucleus neurons occurs, at least in part, by way of presynaptic vestibular axons. As the spinal stimulus strength was increased, these graded depolarizations became large enough to initiate spikes which presumably propagate to the vestibular receptors. Thus antidromic invasion of the presynaptic terminals may provide negative feedback by preventing their re-excitation at short intervals after a synchronous discharge of an adequate number of postsynaptic cells. Excitatory inputs to the neurons of the lateral vestibular nucleus were identified from the spinal cord and from the contralateral vestibular nerve. Long latency excitatory postsynaptic potentials large enough to excite the cells were recorded following spinal stimulation; the threshold intensity for evoking them was consistently higher than that adequate to generate the graded antidromic depolarizations. Field potentials recorded after stimulation of the contra lateral vestibular nerve consisted of an initial positive negative wave followed by a slow negative wave. the stimulus intensity for evoking these potentials was the same or slightly above the threshold for those evoked in the lateral vestibular nucleus on the stimulated side. Also lateral vestibular nucleus neurons exhibited excitatory postsynaptic potentials large enough to excite the cells following stimulation of the contralateral vestibular nerve. but no inhibitory postsynaptic potentials were detected. This lack of commissural inhibition indicates a qualitative difference between the central organization of these cells in the toadfish and in mammals. The presence of neurons in the lateral vestibular nucleus which send their axons to the labyrinth was confirmed by their heavy staining with Procion Yellow following axonal iontophoresis. In a number of vestibular neurons. abruptly rising spikes were evoked at short latencies after adequate stimulation of the ipsilateral vestibular nerve. Graded stimuli applied to the vestibular nerve evoked graded short latency depolarizations as well as long latency excitatory postsynaptic potentials in these presumed efferent neurons to the labyrinth; the former could indicate electrotonic coupling of the efferent cells or electrotonic transmission from primary afferents, resulting in a short latency feedback loop. From these studies, the synaptic organization of the lateral vestibular nucleus neurons is compared with that of the Mauthner cells of teleosts, and the possibility of a dual mode of transmission, electrical and chemical, by primary vestibular afferents is discussed.
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