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Acta Biol Hung. 1988;39(2-3):229-49.

Comparative view of the central organization of afferent and efferent circuitry for the inner ear.

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Department of Anatomy, Medical Faculty, Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.


In all vertebrates, eighth nerve fibres from the inner ear distribute to target nuclei situated in the dorsolateral wall of the rhombencephalon. In amniotes, primary auditory and vestibular nuclei are readily delineated in that acoustic nuclei lie dorsal and sometimes rostral to vestibular nuclei. Fishes and aquatic amphibians have, in addition to labyrinthine organs, hair cell receptors in the lateral line system. Eighth nerve and lateral line fibres from these sense organs project to the octavolateralis region of the rhombencephalon. In this region, the primary nuclei cannot be easily divided into functionally distinct units. However, modality-specific zones seem to be present for auditory as well as lateral line projections lie dorsal and sometimes rostral to those from vestibular organs. Projections from the primary auditory and vestibular nuclei to higher order centres follow pathways which are conservative in their architecture among vertebrates. Ascending auditory fibres project either directly or via relay nuclei to a large midbrain center, the torus semicircularis (inferior colliculus) and hence to the forebrain. In fishes and aquatic amphibians, the lateral line system also sends a projection to the midbrain and information from this system may be integrated with auditory input at that level. The organization of vestibulospinal and vestibulo-ocular pathways shows little variation throughout vertebrate phylogeny. The sense organs of the inner ear of all vertebrates and of the lateral line system of anamniotes receive an efferent innervation. In anamniotes and some reptiles, the efferent supply originates from a single nucleus (Octavolateralis Efferent Nucleus) while that of "higher" vertebrates arises from separate auditory and vestibular efferent nuclei. The biological significance of this innervation for all vertebrates is not yet understood. However, an important feature common to all is the association of the efferent system with the motor centres of the hindbrain.

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