1. Although auditory and vestibular hair cells are known to regenerate after aminoglycoside intoxication in birds, there is only sparse evidence that the regenerated hair cells are functional. To address this issue, we examined the relation of hair cell regeneration to recovery of the vestibuloocular reflex (VOR), whose afferent signal originates at hair cells in the vestibular epithelium. Hair cell damage was produced by treating white Leghorn chicks (Gallus domesticus, 4-8 days posthatch) with streptomycin sulfate in normal saline (1,200 mg · kg-1 · day-1 im) for 5 days. 2. In the 1st wk after treatment, the VOR gain was essentially 0, and hair cell density as assessed by light microscopy was ~40% of normal. Between the 1st and 3rd wk after treatment, the VOR was present. Although VOR gain varied considerably from one chick to another, it increased, on average, between the 1st and 3rd wk, as did the average hair cell density. At the end of 8-9 wk, the gain and phase of the VOR had returned to normal values, as had the average density of hair cells. 3. Therefore, despite the catastrophic initial effect of hair cell loss on the VOR, recovered hair cells appeared to restore the VOR completely. Average hair cell density increased with average VOR gain. VOR gain correlated better with recovery of type I hair cells than with recovery of type II hair cells. 4. In contrast to hair cell density, the appearance of the vestibular epithelia as assessed by hair cell stereocilia in scanning electron micrographs was a poor indicator of VOR gain. In both treated and control birds, epithelia with the same appearance could have quite different VOR gains, suggesting a variation in the functional viability of the hair cells. 5. This observation suggests that several factors, such as the repair of stereocilia, the efficacy of hair cell synapses on afferent fibers, and the extent of compensation by central vestibular pathways, may affect the recovery of VOR gain. However, our data suggest that hair cell regeneration plays an important role in this recovery.
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