Plasticity in neuronal responses is necessary for compensation following brain lesions and adaptation to new conditions and motor learning. In a previous study, we showed that compensatory changes in the vestibuloocular reflex (VOR) following unilateral vestibular loss were characterized by dynamic reweighting of inputs from vestibular and extravestibular modalities at the level of single neurons that constitute the first central stage of VOR signal processing. Here, we studied another class of neurons, i.e., the vestibular-only neurons, in the vestibular nuclei that mediate vestibulospinal reflexes and provide information for higher brain areas. We investigated changes in the relative contribution of vestibular, neck proprioceptive, and efference copy signals in the response of these neurons during compensation after contralateral vestibular loss in Macaca mulata monkeys. We show that the time course of recovery of vestibular sensitivity of neurons corresponds with that of lower extremity muscle and tendon reflexes reported in previous studies. More important, we found that information from neck proprioceptors, which did not influence neuronal responses before the lesion, were unmasked after lesion. Such inputs influenced the early stages of the compensation process evidenced by faster and more substantial recovery of the resting discharge in proprioceptive-sensitive neurons. Interestingly, unlike our previous study of VOR interneurons, the improvement in the sensitivity of the two groups of neurons did not show any difference in the early or late stages after lesion. Finally, neuronal responses during active head movements were not different before and after lesion and were attenuated relative to passive movements over the course of recovery, similar to that observed in control conditions. Comparison of compensatory changes observed in the vestibuloocular and vestibulospinal pathways provides evidence for similarities and differences between the two classes of neurons that mediate these pathways at the functional and cellular levels.
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