Otolith dysfunction alters exploratory movement in mice

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Abstract

The organization of rodent exploratory behavior appears to depend on self-movement cue processing. As of yet, however, no studies have directly examined the vestibular system’s contribution to the organization of exploratory movement. The current study sequentially segmented open field behavior into progressions and stops in order to characterize differences in movement organization between control and otoconia-deficient tilted mice under conditions with and without access to visual cues. Under completely dark conditions, tilted mice exhibited similar distance traveled and stop times overall, but had significantly more circuitous progressions, larger changes in heading between progressions, and less stable clustering of home bases, relative to control mice. In light conditions, control and tilted mice were similar on all measures except for the change in heading between progressions. This pattern of results is consistent with otoconia-deficient tilted mice using visual cues to compensate for impaired self-movement cue processing. This work provides the first empirical evidence that signals from the otolithic organs mediate the organization of exploratory behavior, based on a novel assessment of spatial orientation.

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