Relationship of semicircular canal size to vestibular-nerve afferent sensitivity in mammals

Aizhen Yang, Timothy E. Hullar

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97 Scopus citations


The relationship between semicircular canal radius of curvature and afferent sensitivity has not been experimentally determined. We characterized mouse semicircular canal afferent responses to sinusoidal head rotations to facilitate interspecies and intraspecies comparisons of canal size to sensitivity. The interspecies experiment compared the horizontal canal afferent responses among animals ranging in size from mouse to rhesus monkey. The intraspecies experiment compared afferent responses from the larger anterior canal to those from the smaller horizontal canal of mice. The responses of mouse vestibular-nerve afferents showed a low- and high-frequency phase lead and high-frequency gain enhancement. Regular horizontal-canal afferents showed a sensitivity to 0.5-Hz sinusoidal rotations of 0.10 ± 0.03 (SD) spike·s-1/deg·s-1 and high-gain irregular afferents showed a sensitivity of 0.25 ± 0.11 spike·s -1/deg·s-1. The interspecies comparison showed that the sensitivity of regular afferents was related to the radius of curvature R according to the formula Gr = 0.23R - 0.09 (r2 = 0.86) and the sensitivity of irregular afferents was related to radius according to the formula Gi = 0.32R + 0.01 (r2 = 0.67). The intraspecies comparison showed that regularly firing anterior canal afferents were significantly more sensitive than those from the relatively smaller horizontal canal, with Gr = 0.25R. This suggests that canal radius of curvature is closely related to afferent sensitivity both among and within species. If the relationship in humans is similar to that demonstrated here, the sensitivity of their regular vestibular-nerve afferents to 0.5-Hz rotations is likely to be about 0.67 spike·s-1/deg·s-1 and of their high-gain irregular afferents about 1.06 spikes·s-1/ deg·s-1.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3197-3205
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of neurophysiology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2007

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Physiology


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