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J Neurosci. 2011 Nov 16;31(46):16700-8. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0891-11.2011.

Behavioral state modulates the activity of brainstem sensorimotor neurons.

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Department of Anatomy & Neurobiology, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, Missouri 63110, USA.


Sensorimotor processing must be modulated according to the animal's behavioral state. A previous study demonstrated that motion responses were strongly state dependent in birds. Vestibular eye and head responses were significantly larger and more compensatory during simulated flight, and a flight-specific vestibular tail response was also characterized. In the current study, we investigated the neural substrates for these state-dependent vestibular behaviors by recording extracellularly from neurons in the vestibular nuclear complex and comparing their spontaneous activity and sensory responses during default and simulated flight states. We show that motion-sensitive neurons in the lateral vestibular nucleus are state dependent. Some neurons increased their spontaneous firing rates during flight, though their increased excitability was not reflected in higher sensory gains. However, other neurons exhibited state-dependent gating of sensory inputs, responding to rotational stimuli only during flight. These results demonstrate that vestibular processing in the brainstem is state dependent and lay the foundation for future studies to investigate the synaptic mechanisms responsible for these modifications.

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