Cochlear nerve adaptation is thought to result, at least partially, from the depletion of neurotransmitter stores in hair cells. Recently, neurotransmitter vesicle pools have been identified in chick tall hair cells that might play a role in adaptation. In order to understand better the relationship between adaptation and neurotransmitter release dynamics, short-term adaptation was characterized by using peristimulus time histograms of single-unit activity in the chick cochlear nerve. The adaptation function resulting from 100-ms pure tone stimuli presented at the characteristic frequency, +20 dB relative to threshold, was well described as a single exponential decay process with an average time constant of 18.6±0.8 ms (mean ± SEM). The number of spikes contributed by the adapting part of the response increased tonotopically for characteristic frequencies up to ~0.8 kHz. Comparison of the adaptation data with known physiological and anatomical hair cell properties suggests that depletion of the readily releasable pool is the basis of short-term adaptation in the chick. With this idea in mind, short-term adaptation was used as a proxy for assessing tall hair cell synaptic function following intense acoustic stimulation. After 48 h of exposure to an intense pure tone, the time constant of short-term adaptation was unaltered, whereas the number of spikes in the adapting component was increased at characteristic frequencies at and above the exposure frequency. These data suggest that the rate of readily releasable pool emptying is unaltered, but the neurotransmitter content of the pool is increased, by exposure to intense sound. The results imply that an increase in readily releasable pool size might be a compensatory mechanism ensuring the strength of the hair cell afferent synapse in the face of ongoing acoustic stress.
Keywords: hair cell, single unit, auditory, exocytosis, synapse, afferent