Mammalian vestibular-nerve afferents innervating the semicircular canals have been divided into groups according to their discharge regularity, gain at 2-Hz rotational stimulation, and morphology. Low-gain irregular afferents terminate in calyx endings in the central crista, high-gain irregular afferents synapse more peripherally in dimorphic (bouton and calyx) endings, and regular afferents terminate in the peripheral zone as bouton-only and dimorphic endings. The response dynamics of these three groups have been described only up to 4 Hz in previous studies. Reported here are responses of chinchilla semicircular canal vestibular-nerve afferents to rotational stimuli at frequencies up to 16 Hz. The sensitivity of all afferents increased with increasing frequency with the sensitivity of low-gain irregular afferents increasing the most and matching the high-gain irregular afferents at 16 Hz. All afferents increased their phase lead with respect to stimulus velocity at higher frequencies with the highest leads in low-gain irregular afferents and the lowest in regular afferents. No attenuation of sensitivity or shift in phase consistent with the presence of a high-frequency pole over the range tested was noted. Responses were best fit with a torsion-pendulum model combined with a lead operator (τ HF1s + 1)(τHF2s + 1). The discharge regularity of individual afferents was correlated to the value of each afferent's lead operator time constants. These findings suggest that low-gain irregular afferents are well suited for encoding the onset of rapid head movements, a property that would be advantageous for initiation of reflexes with short latency such as the vestibulo-ocular reflex.
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