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Brain Res Dev Brain Res. 2003 Jun 12;143(1):15-23.

Differential impact of hypergravity on maturating innervation in vestibular epithelia during rat development.

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INSERM U432, Université Montpellier II, place E. Bataillon, 34095 Montpellier, Cedex 05, France.


Over the past decades, the new opportunity of space flights has revealed the importance of gravity as a mechanical constraint for terrestrial organisms as well as its influence on the somatosensory system. The lack of gravitational reference in orbital flight induces changes in equilibrium, with major modifications involving neuromorphological and physiological adaptations. However, few data have illustrated the putative effect of gravity on sensory vestibular epithelial development. We asked if gravity, the primary stimulus of utricles could act as an epigenetic factor. As sensorial deprivation linked to weightlessness is technically difficult, we used a ground-based centrifuge to increase the gravitational vector, in order to hyperstimulate the vestibule. In this study, 3 days after mating, pregnant females were submitted to hypergravity, 2 g (HG). Their embryos were raised, born and postnatally developed under HG. The establishment of connections between primary vestibular afferent neurons and hair cells in the utricle of these young rats was followed from birth to postnatal day 6 (PN6) and compared to embryos developed in normogravity (NG): Immunocytochemistry for neurofilaments and microvesicles revealed the differential effects of gravity on the late neuritogenic and synaptogenic processes in utricles. Taking type I hair cell innervation as a criterion of maturation, we found that primary afferent fibres reached the vestibular epithelium and enveloped hair cells in the same way, both under NG and HG. Thus, this phenomenon of leading growth cones to their epithelial target appears to be dependent on intrinsic genetic properties and not on an external stimulus. In contrast, the maturation of connection processes between type 1 hair cells and the afferent calyx, concerning specifically the microvesicles at their apex, was delayed under HG. Therefore, gravity appears to be an epigenetic factor influencing the late maturation of utricles. These differential effects of altered gravity on the development of the vestibular epithelium are discussed.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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