Avian auditory and vestibular hair cells regenerate after damage by ototoxic drugs, but until recently there was little evidence that regenerated vestibular hair cells function normally. In an earlier study we showed that the vestibuloocular reflex (VOR) is eliminated with aminoglycoside antibiotic treatment and recovers as hair cells regenerate. The VOR, which stabilizes the eye in the head, is an open-loop system that is thought to depend largely on regularly firing afferents. Recovery of the VOR is highly correlated with the regeneration of type I hair cells. In contrast, the vestibulocolic reflex (VCR), which stabilizes the head in space, is a closed-loop, negative- feedback system that seems to depend more on irregularly firing afferent input and is thought to be subserved by different circuitry than the VOR. We examined whether this different reflex also of vestibular origin would show similar recovery after hair cell regeneration. Lesions of the vestibular hair cells of 10-day-old chicks were created by a 5-day course of streptomycin sulfate. One day after completion of streptomycin treatment there was no measurable VCR gain, and total hair cell density was ~35% of that in untreated, age-matched controls. At 2 wk postlesion there was significant recovery of the VCR; at this time two subjects showed VCR gains within the range of control chicks. At 3 wk postlesion all subjects showed VCR gains and phase shifts within the normal range. These data show that the VCR recovers before the VOR. Unlike VOR gain, recovering VCR gain correlates equally well with the density of regenerating type I and type II vestibular hair cells, except at high frequencies. Several factors other than hair cell regeneration, such as length of stereocilia, reafferentation of hair cells, and compensation involving central neural pathways, may be involved in behavioral recovery. Our data suggest that one or more of these factors differentially affect the recovery of these two vestibular reflexes.
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