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Brain Res. 1989 May 22;487(2):278-87.

Orientation of the semicircular canals in rat.

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  • 1Department of Anatomy, University of California, Irvine 92717.


The orientation of the rat semicircular canals was determined using one of two techniques. Null point analysis was used to define physiologically the planar equations of the anterior (n = 15) and posterior canals (n = 15); equations for the horizontal canal (n = 19) were determined using an anatomical dissection technique. Canal orientation was defined with respect to stereotaxic coordinate system and, for comparison, relative to head position during freeze (startle) behavior. Results show that ipsilateral canal planes are orthogonal within 4-8 degrees, and pairs of right-left synergistic pairs are essentially co-planar. The horizontal canals are inclined upwards 35 degrees with respect to the horizontal plane, but a head position of 43 degrees nose-down was determined to produce near optimal horizontal canal and minimal vertical canal activation with horizontal rotation. Finally, a loud or unexpected auditory stimulus initiates a freeze (startle) response in rat characterized by an transient followed by a sustained head position lasting several seconds. Transients are complete within 300-400 ms. Thereafter, the head becomes momentarily stabilized in the startle position which averaged 14 +/- 8 degrees (nose-down with respect to horizontal stereotaxic zero) across the population (n = 14). The response habituated only slightly, but the final position was sufficiently variable so as to limit the usefulness of the freeze (startle) position as a reference of semicircular canal position in the rat.

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