The functional role of the mammalian efferent vestibular system (EVS) is not fully understood. One proposal is that the mammalian EVS plays a role in the long-term calibration of central vestibular pathways, for example during development. Here to test this possibility, we studied vestibular function in mice lacking a functional α9 subunit of the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR) gene family, which mediates efferent activation of the vestibular periphery. We focused on an α9 (−/−) model with a deletion in exons 1 and 2. First, we quantified gaze stability by testing vestibulo-ocular reflex (VOR, 0.2–3 Hz) responses of both α9 (−/−) mouse models in dark and light conditions. VOR gains and phases were comparable for both α9 (−/−) mutants and wild-type controls. Second, we confirmed the lack of an effect from the α9 (−/−) mutation on central visuo-motor pathways/eye movement pathways via analyses of the optokinetic reflex (OKR) and quick phases of the VOR. We found no differences between α9 (−/−) mutants and wild-type controls. Third and finally, we investigated postural abilities during instrumented rotarod and balance beam tasks. Head movements were quantified using a 6D microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) module fixed to the mouse’s head. Compared to wild-type controls, we found head movements were strikingly altered in α9 (−/−) mice, most notably in the pitch axis. We confirmed these later results in another α9 (−/−) model, with a deletion in the exon 4 region. Overall, we conclude that the absence of the α9 subunit of nAChRs predominately results in an impairment of posture rather than gaze.
- efferent system
- vestibulo-ocular reflex
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience