Cerebellar unipolar brush cells are targets of primary vestibular afferents: an experimental study in the gerbil
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The unipolar brush cell (UBC) is an excitatory glutamatergic interneuron, situated in the cerebellar granular layer, that itself receives excitatory synaptic input on its dendritic brush from a single mossy fiber terminal in the form of a giant glutamatergic synapse. The UBC axon branches within the granular layer, giving rise to large terminals that synapse with both granule cell and UBC dendrites within glomeruli and resemble in morphological and functional terms those formed by extrinsic mossy fibers. So far, the only demonstrated extrinsic afferents to the UBC are the choline acetyltransferase (ChAT)-positive mossy fibers, some of which originate from the medial and descending vestibular nuclei. To ascertain whether UBCs are innervated by primary vestibular fibers, we performed a tract-tracing light and electron microscopic study of the vestibulocerebellum in gerbils. Macular and canal vestibular end-organs were individually labeled by injection of biotinylated dextran amine. After an appropriate survival time, gerbils were then processed for light and electron microscopic analysis of central vestibular projections. In the nodulus and uvula, labeled primary vestibular fibers formed mossy terminals synapsing with both granule cells and UBCs in all of the injected gerbils. Thus, innervation of UBCs by extrinsic mossy fibers carrying static and dynamic vestibular signals represents the first synapse of networks that contribute a powerful form of distributed excitation in the granular layer.
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