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Altered gravity affects ventral root activity during fictive swimming and the static vestibuloocular reflex in young tadpoles (Xenopus Laevis).

S. Boser, C. Dournon, L. Gualandris-Parisot, E. Horn


During early periods of life, modifications of the gravitational environment affect the development of sensory, neuronal and motor systems. The vestibular system exerts significant effects on motor networks that control eye and body posture as well as swimming. The objective of the present study was to study whether altered gravity (AG) affects vestibuloocular and spinal motor systems in a correlated manner. During the French Soyuz taxi flight Andromède to the International Space Station ISS (launch: October 21, 2001; landing: October 31, 2001) Xenopus laevis embryos were exposed for 10 days to microgravity (µg). In addition, a similar experiment with 3g-hypergravity (3g) was performed in the laboratory. At onset of AG, embryos had reached developmental stages 24 to 27. After exposure to AG, each tadpole was tested for its roll-induced vestibuloocular reflex (rVOR) and 3 hours later it was tested for the neuronal activity recorded from the ventral roots (VR) during fictive swimming. During the post-AG recording periods tadpoles had reached developmental stages 45 to 47. It was observed that microgravity affected VR activity during fictive swimming and rVOR. In particular, VR activity changes included a significant decrease of the rostrocaudal delay and a significant increase of episode duration. The rVOR-amplitude was transiently depressed. Hypergravity was less effective on the locomotor pattern; occurring effects on fictive swimming were the opposite of µg effects. As after microgravity, the rVOR was depressed after 3g-exposure. All modifications of the rVOR and VR-activity recovered to normal levels within 4 to 7 days after termination of AG. Significant correlations between the rVOR amplitude and VR activity of respective tadpoles during the recording period have been observed in both tadpoles with or without AG experience. The data are consistent with the assumptions that during this period of life which is characterized by a progressive development of vestibuloocular and vestibulospinal projections (i) microgravity retards the development of VR activity while hypergravity weakly accelerates it, (ii) that microgravity retards the rVOR development while hypergravity caused a sensitization, and that (iii) AG-induced changes of VR activity during fictive swimming have a vestibular origin.

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