Image stability during self motion depends on the combined actions of the vestibuloocular and optokinetic reflexes (VOR and OKR, respectively). Neurons in the medial vestibular nucleus (MVN) participate in the VOR and OKR by firing in response to both head and image motion. Their intrinsic spike-generating properties enable MVN neurons to modulate firing rates linearly over a broad range of input amplitudes and frequencies such as those that occur during natural head and image motion. This study examines the postnatal development of the intrinsic spike-generating properties of rat MVN neurons with respect to maturation of peripheral vestibular and visual function. Spike generation was studied in a brain stem slice preparation by recording firing responses to current injected intracellularly through whole cell patch electrodes. MVN neurons fired spontaneously and modulated their firing rate in response to injected current at all postnatal ages. However, the input-output properties of the spike generator changed dramatically during the first two postnatal weeks. Neurons younger than postnatal day 10 could not fire faster than 80 spikes/s, modulated their firing rates over a limited range of input amplitudes, and tended to exhibit a nonlinear relationship between input current and mean evoked firing rate. In response to sustained depolarization, firing rates declined significantly in young neurons. Response gains tended to be highest in the first few postnatal days but varied widely across neurons and were not correlated with age. By about the beginning of the third postnatal week, MVN neurons could fire faster than 100 spikes/s in response to a broad range of input amplitudes, exhibited predominantly linear current-firing rate relationships, and adapted little in response to sustained depolarization. Concomitant decreases in action potential width and the time course of the afterhyperpolarization suggest that changes in potassium currents contribute to the maturation of the MVN neuronal spike generator. The results demonstrate that developmental changes in intrinsic membrane properties enable MVN neurons to fire linearly in response to a broad range of stimuli in time for the onset of visual function at the beginning of the third postnatal week.
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