Anatomical and neurophysiological studies were undertaken to examine the central projection pattern of physiologically characterized horizontal semicircular canal vestibular nerve afferents in the toadfish, Opsanus tau. The variations in individual response characteristics of vestibular nerve afferents to rotational stimulus provided a means of typing the afferents into descriptive classes; the afferents fell into a broad continuum across the spectrum from low-gain, velocity-sensitive to high-gain, acceleration-sensitive responses (Boyle and Highstein [1990b] J. Neurosci. 10:1557-1569; Boyle and Highstein [1990a] J. Neurosci. 10:1570-1582). In the present study, each afferent was typed as a low-gain, high-gain, or acceleration fiber during rotational or mechanical stimulation (Rabbitt et al.  J. Neurophysiol. 73:2237-2260) and was then intracellularly injected with biocytin. The axons were reconstructed, and the morphology, synaptic boutons, and projection pattern of each axon were determined. The results indicated that the three descriptive classes of vestibular nerve afferents have unique as well as overlapping central projection patterns and destinations in the vestibular nuclei, with intranuclear parcellation in the anterior octavus, magnocellularis, tangentialis, posterior octavus, and descending octavus nuclei. In general, increased sensitivity and faster response dynamics were correlated with both a more extensive central projection and a progressive increase in morphological complexity. Low-gain, velocity-sensitive fibers were the simplest morphologically, with the fewest number of branches (n = 17) and shortest length (4,282 microm), and projections were confined to the middle portions of the vestibular nuclei. High-gain, velocity-sensitive fibers were morphologically more diverse than low-gain fibers, with a greater number of branches (n = 26), longer length (6,059 microm), 29% greater volume, and a more widespread projection pattern with projections to both the anterior and the middle portions of the vestibular nuclei. Acceleration fibers were morphologically distinct from low- and high-gain fibers, with more elaborate branching (n = 41), greatest overall length (17,370 microm) and volume (16% greater than high gains), and displayed the most extensive central projection pattern, innervating all vestibular nuclei except tangentialis. Thus, there are anatomically demonstrable differential central projections of canal afferents with different response dynamics within the vestibular complex of the fish.