Ultrastructure of vestibular commissural neurons related to velocity storage in the monkey

G. R. Holstein, G. P. Martinelli, S. Wearne, B. Cohen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


The angular vestibulo-ocular reflex maintains gaze during head movements. It is thought to be mediated by two components: direct and velocity storage pathways. The direct angular vestibulo-ocular reflex is conveyed by a three neuron chain from the labyrinth to the ocular motoneurons. The indirect pathway involves a more complex neural network that utilizes a portion of the vestibular commissure. The purpose of the present study was to identify the ultrastructural characteristics of commissural neurons in the medial vestibular nucleus that are related to the velocity storage component of the angular vestibulo-ocular reflex. Ultrastructural studies of degenerating medial vestibular nucleus neurons were conducted in monkeys following midline section of rostral medullary commissural fibers with subsequent behavioral testing. After this lesion, oculomotor and vestibular functions attributable to velocity storage were abolished, whereas the direct angular vestibulo-ocular reflex pathway remained intact. Since this damage was functionally discrete, degenerating neurons were interpreted as potential participants in the velocity storage network. Ultrastructural observations indicate that commissural neurons related to velocity storage are small and medium sized cells having large nuclei with deep indentations and relatively little cytoplasm, which are located in the lateral crescents of rostral medial vestibular nucleus. The morphology of degenerating dendritic profiles varied. Some contained numerous round or tubular mitochondria in a pale cytoplasmic matrix with few other organelles, while others had few mitochondria but many cisterns and vacuoles in dense granular cytoplasm. The commissural nature of these cells was further suggested by the presence of two different types of degenerating axon terminals in the rostral medial vestibular nucleus: those with a moderate density of large spherical synaptic vesicles, and those with pleomorphic, primarily ellipsoid synaptic vesicles. The recognition of two types of degenerating terminals further supports our interpretation that at least two morphological types of commissural neurons participate in the velocity storage network. The degenerating boutons formed contacts with a variety of postsynaptic partners. In particular, synapses were observed between degenerating boutons and non- degenerating dendrites, and between intact terminals and degenerating dendrites. However, degenerating pre- and postsynaptic elements were rarely observed in direct contact, suggesting that additional neurons are interposed in the indirect pathway commissural system. On the basis of these ultrastructural observations, it is concluded that vestibular commissural neurons involved in the mediation of velocity storage have distinguishing ultrastructural features and synaptology, that are different from those of direct pathway neurons.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)155-170
Number of pages16
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jun 1999


  • Ultrastructural degeneration
  • Velocity storage
  • Vestibular commissure
  • Vestibular nuclei
  • Vestibular system
  • Vestibulo-ocular reflex


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