Nystagmus in the horizontal plane is evoked in fish by mechanical stimulation of the ampulla of the horizontal semicircular canal or by electrical stimulation of the nerve from this canal. The movements are conjugate and the slow phase is away from the side of stimulation. Medial rectus motoneurons were recorded from intracellularly, during nystagmus. During the slow phase (induced by ipsilateral stimulation), impulses arise abruptly from the base line and appear to arise at a distance from the cell body. During the fast phase (evoked by contralateral stimulation), impulses appear to arise from large PSPs that must be generated at or near the cell body. In the curarized fish, stimulation of the nerve from the contralateral horizontal canal evokes spikes that arise from large EPSPs and that are blocked relatively easily by hyperpolarizing currents. Stimulation of the nerve from the ipsilateral horizontal canal evokes spikes that arise abruptly from the base line and that are much more difficult to block by hyperpolarizing currents. Little if any underlying PSP is observed when these impulses are delayed or blocked. Thus impulses evoked by stimulation of contralateral and ipsilateral side are initiated near to and far from the cell soma, respectively. If impulses evoked by contralateral stimulation fail to excite the cell body due to injury, antidromic spikes are not occluded. Thus contralateral stimulation initiates impulses in the dendrites. Cell bodies of neighboring motoneurons are coupled electronically, and graded antidromic stimulation evokes graded depolarizing potentials which result from electrotonic spread of spike activity from adjacent neurons. These depolarizing potentials are adequate to excite the cells in the presence of a background EPSP evoked by contralateral canal stimulation. In this manner coupling tends to synchronize cells during the fast phase of the nystagmus. Antidromic responses of neighboring cells fail to interact with dendritic inputs to a particular cell, although indirect evidence indicates antidromic spikes invade the impulse initiating regions in the dendrites. Thus coupling between dendrites is negligible and dendritic inputs can mediate the smoothly graded movements of the slow nystagmic phase. Coupling between somata is too weak to cause significant interaction between dendritically evoked impulses (unless the cell bodies are depolarized by EPSPs). Rhythmic firing can be recorded in a single presynaptic fiber corresponding to either the slow or the fast phase of nystagmus, but not to both. Oculomotor neurons appear to be 'relay cells' that, during the fast phase of the nystagmus receive a synchronized synaptic input which is initiated in a higher level command nucleus.
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