Vestibular compensation after ganglionectomy: Ultrastructural study of the tangential vestibular nucleus and behavioral study of the hatchling chick

Eric M. Aldrich, Kenna D. Peusner

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22 Scopus citations


The tangential nucleus is a major part of the avian vestibular nuclear complex, and its principal cells are structurally distinctive neurons participating in the vestibuloocular and vestibulocollic reflexes. After unilateral peripheral vestibular lesion, a behavioral recovery of function defined as vestibular compensation is observed. Because sprouting and hypertrophy of synapses have been reported in other regions of immature animals after central nervous system injury, we investigated whether this also occurs in the vestibular nuclei during compensation. To test this hypothesis, unilateral vestibular ganglionectomy was performed on 4-6-day-old hatchlings and vestibular function was tested during the next 2 months. Degeneration and evidence for regeneration of synapses were studied in the tangential nucleus at 1, 3, 7, and 56 days after surgery. Spoon endings, large vestibular terminals on the principal somata, degenerated 1-3 days after surgery. However, the small synaptic terminals showed no significant change in the percentage or number covering the soma or in mean terminal lengths in the deafferented or contralateral tangential nucleus. Furthermore, there was no evidence of neuron death in the tangential nucleus. Vestibular compensation occurred in three stages: 0-3 days, when vestibular synapses degenerated and severe behavioral deficits were seen; 4-9 days, when primary vestibular fibers degenerated centrally and marked improvement in both the static and the dynamic symptoms were observed; and 10-56 days, when changes in neuronal morphology were not detected but the dynamic symptoms gradually improved. Accordingly, after unilateral vestibular ganglionectomy, vestibular compensation proceeded without ultrastructural evidence of sprouting or hypertrophy of axosomatic synapses in the hatchling tangential nucleus. This rapid behavioral recovery of function distinguishes the vestibular system from other sensory systems, which, in general, exhibit much less robust recovery after injury to their peripheral receptors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)122-138
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of neuroscience research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2002


  • Fiber degeneration
  • Nerve transection
  • Symptoms

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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