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1.  Auditory nerve inputs to cochlear nucleus neurons studied with cross-correlation 
Neuroscience  2008;154(1):127-138.
The strength of synapses between auditory nerve (AN) fibers and ventral cochlear nucleus (VCN) neurons is an important factor in determining the nature of neural integration in VCN neurons of different response types. Synaptic strength was analyzed using cross-correlation of spike trains recorded simultaneously from an AN fiber and a VCN neuron in anesthetized cats. VCN neurons were classified as chopper, primarylike, and onset using previously defined criteria, although onset neurons usually were not analyzed because of their low discharge rates. The correlograms showed an excitatory peak (EP), consistent with monosynaptic excitation, in AN-VCN pairs with similar best frequencies (49% 24/49 of pairs with best frequencies within ±5%). Chopper and primarylike neurons showed similar EPs, except that the primarylike neurons had shorter latencies and shorter-duration EPs. Large EPs consistent with endbulb terminals on spherical bushy cells were not observed, probably because of the low probability of recording from one. The small EPs observed in primarylike neurons, presumably spherical bushy cells, could be derived from small terminals that accompany endbulbs on these cells. EPs on chopper or primarylike-with-notch neurons were consistent with the smaller synaptic terminals on multipolar and globular bushy cells. Unexpectedly, EPs were observed only at sound levels within about 20 dB of threshold, showing that VCN responses to steady tones shift from a 1:1 relationship between AN and VCN spikes at low sound levels to a more autonomous mode of firing at high levels. In the high level mode, the pattern of output spikes seems to be determined by the properties of the postsynaptic spike generator rather than the input spike patterns. The EP amplitudes did not change significantly when the presynaptic spike was preceded by either a short or long interspike interval, suggesting that synaptic depression and facilitation have little effect under the conditions studied here.
doi:10.1016/j.neuroscience.2008.01.036
PMCID: PMC2478560  PMID: 18343587
cross-correlation; ventral cochlear nucleus; synaptic strength
2.  Temporal Coding by Cochlear Nucleus Bushy Cells in DBA/2J Mice with Early Onset Hearing Loss 
The bushy cells of the anterior ventral cochlear nucleus (AVCN) preserve or improve the temporal coding of sound information arriving from auditory nerve fibers (ANF). The critical cellular mechanisms entailed in this process include the specialized nerve terminals, the endbulbs of Held, and the membrane conductance configuration of the bushy cell. In one strain of mice (DBA/2J), an early-onset hearing loss can cause a reduction in neurotransmitter release probability, and a smaller and slower spontaneous miniature excitatory postsynaptic current (EPSC) at the endbulb synapse. In the present study, by using a brain slice preparation, we tested the hypothesis that these changes in synaptic transmission would degrade the transmission of timing information from the ANF to the AVCN bushy neuron. We show that the electrical excitability of bushy cells in hearing-impaired old DBA mice was different from that in young, normal-hearing DBA mice. We found an increase in the action potential (AP) firing threshold with current injection; a larger AP afterhyperpolarization; and an increase in the number of spikes produced by large depolarizing currents. We also tested the temporal precision of bushy cell responses to high-frequency stimulation of the ANF. The standard deviation of spikes (spike jitter) produced by ANF-evoked excitatory postsynaptic potentials (EPSPs) was largely unaffected in old DBA mice. However, spike entrainment during a 100-Hz volley of EPSPs was significantly reduced. This was not a limitation of the ability of bushy cells to fire APs at this stimulus frequency, because entrainment to trains of current pulses was unaffected. Moreover, the decrease in entrainment is not attributable to increased synaptic depression. Surprisingly, the spike latency was 0.46 ms shorter in old DBA mice, and was apparently attributable to a faster conduction velocity, since the evoked excitatory postsynaptic current (EPSC) latency was shorter in old DBA mice as well. We also tested the contribution of the low-voltage-activated K+ conductance (gKLV) on the spike latency by using dynamic clamp. Alteration in gKLV had little effect on the spike latency. To test whether these changes in DBA mice were simply a result of continued postnatal maturation, we repeated the experiments in CBA mice, a strain that shows normal hearing thresholds through this age range. CBA mice exhibited no reduction in entrainment or increased spike jitter with age. We conclude that the ability of AVCN bushy neurons to reliably follow ANF EPSPs is compromised in a frequency-dependent fashion in hearing-impaired mice. This effect can be best explained by an increase in spike threshold.
doi:10.1007/s10162-006-0052-9
PMCID: PMC1785302  PMID: 17066341
auditory; spike reliability; entrainment; deafness; endbulb of Held
3.  Temporal Coding by Cochlear Nucleus Bushy Cells in DBA/2J Mice with Early Onset Hearing Loss 
The bushy cells of the anterior ventral cochlear nucleus (AVCN) preserve or improve the temporal coding of sound information arriving from auditory nerve fibers (ANF). The critical cellular mechanisms entailed in this process include the specialized nerve terminals, the endbulbs of Held, and the membrane conductance configuration of the bushy cell. In one strain of mice (DBA/2J), an early-onset hearing loss can cause a reduction in neurotransmitter release probability, and a smaller and slower spontaneous miniature excitatory postsynaptic current (EPSC) at the endbulb synapse. In the present study, by using a brain slice preparation, we tested the hypothesis that these changes in synaptic transmission would degrade the transmission of timing information from the ANF to the AVCN bushy neuron. We show that the electrical excitability of bushy cells in hearing-impaired old DBA mice was different from that in young, normal-hearing DBA mice. We found an increase in the action potential (AP) firing threshold with current injection; a larger AP afterhyperpolarization; and an increase in the number of spikes produced by large depolarizing currents. We also tested the temporal precision of bushy cell responses to high-frequency stimulation of the ANF. The standard deviation of spikes (spike jitter) produced by ANF-evoked excitatory postsynaptic potentials (EPSPs) was largely unaffected in old DBA mice. However, spike entrainment during a 100-Hz volley of EPSPs was significantly reduced. This was not a limitation of the ability of bushy cells to fire APs at this stimulus frequency, because entrainment to trains of current pulses was unaffected. Moreover, the decrease in entrainment is not attributable to increased synaptic depression. Surprisingly, the spike latency was 0.46 ms shorter in old DBA mice, and was apparently attributable to a faster conduction velocity, since the evoked excitatory postsynaptic current (EPSC) latency was shorter in old DBA mice as well. We also tested the contribution of the low-voltage-activated K+ conductance (gKLV) on the spike latency by using dynamic clamp. Alteration in gKLV had little effect on the spike latency. To test whether these changes in DBA mice were simply a result of continued postnatal maturation, we repeated the experiments in CBA mice, a strain that shows normal hearing thresholds through this age range. CBA mice exhibited no reduction in entrainment or increased spike jitter with age. We conclude that the ability of AVCN bushy neurons to reliably follow ANF EPSPs is compromised in a frequency-dependent fashion in hearing-impaired mice. This effect can be best explained by an increase in spike threshold.
doi:10.1007/s10162-006-0052-9
PMCID: PMC1785302  PMID: 17066341
auditory; spike reliability; entrainment; deafness; endbulb of Held
4.  Developmental mechanisms for suppressing the effects of delayed release at the endbulb of Held 
Delayed release of neurotransmitter, also called asynchronous release, is commonly observed at synapses, yet its influence on transmission of spike information is unknown. We examined this issue at endbulb of Held synapses, which are formed by auditory nerve fibers onto bushy cells in the cochlear nucleus. Endbulbs from CBA/CaJ mice aged P6–49 showed prominent delayed release when driven at physiologically-relevant rates. In bushy cells from mice before the onset of hearing (P6–12), spikes were driven by delayed release up to 100 ms after presynaptic activity. However, no such spikes were observed in bushy cells from mice after the onset of hearing (>P14). Dynamic-clamp experiments indicated that delayed release can drive spikes in older bushy cells provided synchronous release is absent, suggesting that activity normally suppresses these spikes. Application of apamin or α-dendrotoxin revealed late spikes in older bushy cells, suggesting that postsynaptic activation of KV1.x and SK channels during spiking suppresses the subsequent effects of delayed release. The developmental upregulation of these potassium channels would be highly adaptive for temporally-precise auditory processing. Furthermore, delayed release appeared to influence synchronous neurotransmitter release. Enhancement of delayed release using strontium was correlated with lower firing probability in current clamp and smaller synchronous EPSCs in voltage clamp. EGTA-AM had the opposite effects. These effects were consistent with delayed and synchronous release competing for a single vesicle pool. Thus delayed release apparently has negative pre- and postsynaptic consequences at the endbulb, which are partly mitigated by postsynaptic potassium channel expression.
doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2300-10.2010
PMCID: PMC2951279  PMID: 20739568
synapse; delayed release; timing; endbulb; auditory; cochlear nucleus
5.  The Effects of Congenital Deafness on Auditory Nerve Synapses: Type I and Type II Multipolar Cells in the Anteroventral Cochlear Nucleus of Cats  
Sensory deprivation has been shown to exert detrimental effects on the structure and function of central sensory systems. Congenital deafness represents an extreme form of auditory deprivation, and in the adult white cat, synapses between auditory nerve endings and resident cells of the anteroventral cochlear nucleus exhibited abnormal structure. Endbulbs of Held were reduced in branching and displayed striking hypertrophy of their postsynaptic densities. So-called modified endbulbs showed no change in branching complexity but did exhibit hypertrophy of their postsynaptic densities. These differential pre- and postsynaptic effects prompted the question of how deafness might affect other primary endings and synapses. Thus, we studied type I and type II multipolar cells that receive bouton endings from auditory nerve fibers. Type I multipolar cells project to the contralateral inferior colliculus and have relatively few axosomatic endings; type II multipolar cells project to the contralateral cochlear nucleus and have many axosomatic endings. Compared with normal-hearing cats, bouton endings of congenitally deaf cats were smaller but there was no difference in synaptic vesicle density or size of postsynaptic densities. These data reveal that different classes of primary endings and second-order neurons exhibit different degrees of synaptic anomalies to deafness.
doi:10.1007/s101620020043
PMCID: PMC3202439  PMID: 12486596
6.  Bilateral Effects of Unilateral Cochlear Implantation in Congenitally Deaf Cats 
The Journal of comparative neurology  2010;518(12):2382-2404.
Congenital deafness results in synaptic abnormalities in auditory nerve endings. These abnormalities are most prominent in terminals called endbulbs of Held, which are large, axosomatic synaptic endings whose size and evolutionary conservation emphasize their importance. Transmission jitter, delay, or failures, which would corrupt the processing of timing information, are possible consequences of the perturbations at this synaptic junction. We sought to determine whether electrical stimulation of the congenitally deaf auditory system via cochlear implants would restore the endbulb synapses to their normal morphology. Three and 6-month-old congenitally deaf cats received unilateral cochlear implants and were stimulated for a period of 10–19 weeks by using human speech processors. Implanted cats exhibited acoustic startle responses and were trained to approach their food dish in response to a specific acoustic stimulus. Endbulb synapses were examined by using serial section electron microscopy from cohorts of cats with normal hearing, congenital deafness, or congenital deafness with a cochlear implant. Synapse restoration was evident in endbulb synapses on the stimulated side of cats implanted at 3 months of age but not at 6 months. In the young implanted cats, post-synaptic densities exhibited normal size, shape, and distribution, and synaptic vesicles had density values typical of hearing cats. Synapses of the contralateral auditory nerve in early implanted cats also exhibited synapses with more normal structural features. These results demonstrate that electrical stimulation with a cochlear implant can help preserve central auditory synapses through direct and indirect pathways in an age-dependent fashion.
doi:10.1002/cne.22339
PMCID: PMC3936022  PMID: 20437534
auditory; auditory nerve; cochlear nucleus; deafness; synapse; ultrastructure
7.  Enhancement and Distortion in the Temporal Representation of Sounds in the Ventral Cochlear Nucleus of Chinchillas and Cats 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(9):e44286.
A subset of neurons in the cochlear nucleus (CN) of the auditory brainstem has the ability to enhance the auditory nerve's temporal representation of stimulating sounds. These neurons reside in the ventral region of the CN (VCN) and are usually known as highly synchronized, or high-sync, neurons. Most published reports about the existence and properties of high-sync neurons are based on recordings performed on a VCN output tract—not the VCN itself—of cats. In other species, comprehensive studies detailing the properties of high-sync neurons, or even acknowledging their existence, are missing.
Examination of the responses of a population of VCN neurons in chinchillas revealed that a subset of those neurons have temporal properties similar to high-sync neurons in the cat. Phase locking and entrainment—the ability of a neuron to fire action potentials at a certain stimulus phase and at almost every stimulus period, respectively—have similar maximum values in cats and chinchillas. Ranges of characteristic frequencies for high-sync neurons in chinchillas and cats extend up to 600 and 1000 Hz, respectively. Enhancement of temporal processing relative to auditory nerve fibers (ANFs), which has been shown previously in cats using tonal and white-noise stimuli, is also demonstrated here in the responses of VCN neurons to synthetic and spoken vowel sounds.
Along with the large amount of phase locking displayed by some VCN neurons there occurs a deterioration in the spectral representation of the stimuli (tones or vowels). High-sync neurons exhibit a greater distortion in their responses to tones or vowels than do other types of VCN neurons and auditory nerve fibers.
Standard deviations of first-spike latency measured in responses of high-sync neurons are lower than similar values measured in ANFs' responses. This might indicate a role of high-sync neurons in other tasks beyond sound localization.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0044286
PMCID: PMC3445608  PMID: 23028514
8.  Interaural Phase and Level Difference Sensitivity in Low-Frequency Neurons in the Lateral Superior Olive 
The lateral superior olive (LSO) is believed to encode differences in sound level at the two ears, a cue for azimuthal sound location. Most high-frequency-sensitive LSO neurons are binaural, receiving inputs from both ears. An inhibitory input from the contralateral ear, via the medial nucleus of the trapezoid body (MNTB), and excitatory input from the ipsilateral ear enable level differences to be encoded. However, the classical descriptions of low-frequency-sensitive neurons report primarily monaural cells with no contralateral inhibition. Anatomical and physiological evidence, however, shows that low-frequency LSO neurons receive low-frequency inhibitory input from ipsilateral MNTB, which in turn receives excitatory input from the contralateral cochlear nucleus and low-frequency excitatory input from the ipsilateral cochlear nucleus. Therefore, these neurons would be expected to be binaural with contralateral inhibition. Here, we re-examined binaural interaction in low-frequency (less than ~3 kHz) LSO neurons and phase locking in the MNTB. Phase locking to low-frequency tones in MNTB and ipsilaterally driven LSO neurons with frequency sensitivities < 1.2 kHz was enhanced relative to the auditory nerve. Moreover, most low-frequency LSO neurons exhibited contralateral inhibition: ipsilaterally driven responses were suppressed by raising the level of the contralateral stimulus; most neurons were sensitive to interaural time delays in pure tone and noise stimuli such that inhibition was nearly maximal when the stimuli were presented to the ears in-phase. The data demonstrate that low-frequency LSO neurons of cat are not monaural and can exhibit contralateral inhibition like their high-frequency counterparts.
doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1609-05.2005
PMCID: PMC1449742  PMID: 16291937
lateral superior olive; medial nucleus of the trapezoid body; interaural time delay; interaural level difference; sound localization; phase locking
9.  Endbulb synaptic depression within the range of presynaptic spontaneous firing and its impact on the firing reliability of cochlear nucleus bushy neurons 
Hearing research  2010;270(1-2):101-109.
The majority of auditory nerve fibers exhibit prominent spontaneous activity in the absence of sound. More than half of all auditory nerve fibers in CBA mice have spontaneous firing rates higher than spikes/sec, and some fibers exceeding 100 spikes/sec. We tested whether and to what extent endbulb synapses are depressed by activity between 10 and 100 Hz, within the spontaneous firing rates of auditory nerve fibers. In contrast to rate-dependent depression seen at rates >100 Hz, we found that the extent of depression was essentially rate-independent (~35%) between 10 and 100 Hz. Neither cyclothiazide nor γ-D-glutamylglycine altered the rate-independent depression, arguing against receptor desensitization and/or vesicle depletion as major contributors for the depression. When endbulb synaptic transmission was more than half-blocked with the P/Q Ca2+ channel blocker ω-agatoxin IVA, depression during 25 and 100 Hz trains was significantly attenuated, indicating P/Q Ca2+ channel inactivation may contribute to low frequency synaptic depression. Following conditioning with a 100 Hz Poisson train, the EPSC paired pulse ratio was increased, suggesting a reduced release probability. This in turn should reduce subsequent depletion-based synaptic depression at higher activation rates. To probe whether this conditioning of the synapse improves the reliability of postsynaptic responses, we tested the firing reliability of bushy neurons to 200 Hz stimulation after conditioning the endbulb with a 25 Hz or 100 Hz stimulus train. Although immediately following the conditioning train, bushy cells responded to minimal suprathreshold stimulation less reliably, the firing reliability eventually settled to the same level (<50%) regardless of the presence or absence of the preconditioning. However, when multiple presynaptic fibers were activated simultaneously, the postsynaptic response reliability did not drop significantly below 90%. These results suggest that single endbulb terminals do not reliably trigger action potentials in bushy cells under “normal” operating conditions. We conclude that the endbulb synapses are chronically depressed even by low rates of spontaneous activity, and are more resistant to further depression when challenged with a higher rate of activity. However, there seems to be no beneficial effect as assessed by the firing reliability of postsynaptic neurons for transmitting information about higher rates of activity.
doi:10.1016/j.heares.2010.09.003
PMCID: PMC2997871  PMID: 20850512
synaptic depression; endbulb of Held; auditory; spontaneous activity; firing reliability
10.  Relative roles of different mechanisms of depression at the mouse endbulb of Held 
Journal of neurophysiology  2008;99(5):2510-2521.
Several mechanisms can underlie short-term synaptic depression, including vesicle depletion, receptor desensitization, and changes in presynaptic release probability. To determine which mechanisms affect depression under physiological conditions, we studied the synapse formed by auditory nerve fibers onto bushy cells in the anteroventral cochlear nucleus (the “endbulb of Held”) using voltage-clamp recordings of brain slices from P15–21 mice near physiological temperatures. Depression of both AMPA and NMDA EPSCs showed two phases of recovery. The fast component of depression for the AMPA EPSC was eliminated by cyclothiazide and aniracetam, suggesting it results from desensitization. The fast component of depression for the NMDA EPSC was reduced by the low-affinity antagonist L-AP5, suggesting it results from saturation. The remaining depression in AMPA and NMDA components is identical and therefore presynaptic in origin. It is likely to result from presynaptic vesicle depletion. Recovery from depression after trains of activity was slowed by the application of EGTA-AM, suggesting that the endbulb has a residual-calcium-dependent form of recovery. We developed a model that incorporates depletion, desensitization, and calcium-dependent recovery. This model replicated experimental findings over a range of experimental conditions. The model further indicated that desensitization plays only a minor role during prolonged activity, in large part because presynaptic release is so depleted. Thus, depletion appears to be the dominant mechanism of depression at the endbulb during normal activity. Furthermore, calcium-dependent recovery at the endbulb is critical to prevent complete run-down during high activity and to preserve the reliability of information transmission.
doi:10.1152/jn.01293.2007
PMCID: PMC2905879  PMID: 18367696
Synapse; Depression; Saturation; Desensitization; Endbulb; Modeling
11.  GABAergic inhibition sharpens the frequency tuning and enhances phase locking in chicken nucleus magnocellularis neurons 
The Journal of Neuroscience  2010;30(36):12075-12083.
GABAergic modulation of activity in avian cochlear nucleus neurons has been studied extensively in vitro. However, how this modulation actually influences processing in vivo is not known. We investigated responses of chicken nucleus magnocellularis (NM) neurons to sound while pharmacologically manipulating the inhibitory input from the superior olivary nucleus (SON). SON receives excitatory inputs from nucleus angularis (NA) and nucleus laminaris (NL), and provides GABAergic inputs to NM, NA, NL, and putatively to the contralateral SON. Results from single unit extracellular recordings from 2–4 wks posthatch chickens show that firing rates of auditory nerve fibers (ANFs) increased monotonically with sound intensity, while that of NM neurons saturated or even decreased at moderate or loud sound levels. Blocking GABAergic input with local application of TTX into the SON induced an increase in firing rate of ipsilateral NM while that of the contralateral NM decreased at high sound levels. Moreover, local application of bicuculline to NM also increased the firing rate of NM neurons at high sound levels, reduced phase-locking, and broadened the frequency tuning properties of NM neurons. Following application of DNQX, clear evidence of inhibition was observed. Furthermore, the inhibition was tuned to a broader frequency range than the excitatory response areas. We conclude that GABAergic inhibition from SON has at least three physiological influences on the activity of NM neurons: it regulates the firing activity of NM units in a sound-level dependent manner; it improves phase selectivity; and it sharpens frequency tuning of NM neuronal responses.
doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1484-10.2010
PMCID: PMC3376706  PMID: 20826670
Superior olivary nucleus; Cochlear nucleus; Bicuculline; GABA; Auditory; In vivo
12.  Synaptic Plasticity after Chemical Deafening and Electrical Stimulation of the Auditory Nerve in Cats 
The Journal of comparative neurology  2010;518(7):1046-1063.
The effects of deafness on brain structure and function have been studied using animal models of congenital deafness that include surgical ablation of the organ of Corti, acoustic trauma, ototoxic drugs, and hereditary deafness. This report describes the morphologic plasticity of auditory nerve synapses in response to ototoxic deafening and chronic electrical stimulation of the auditory nerve. Normal kittens were deafened by neonatal administration of neomycin that eliminated auditory receptor cells. Some of these cats were raised deaf, whereas others were chronically implanted with cochlear electrodes at two months of age and electrically stimulated for up to 12 months. The large endings of the auditory nerve, endbulbs of Held, were studied because they hold a key position in the timing pathway for sound localization, are readily identifiable, and exhibit deafness-associated abnormalities. Compared to normal hearing cats, synapses of ototoxically deafened cats displayed expanded postsynaptic densities, a decrease in synaptic vesicle (SV) density, and a reduction in the somatic size of spherical bushy cells (SBCs). When compared to normal hearing cats, endbulbs of ototoxically deafened cats that received cochlear stimulation expressed postsynaptic densities (PSDs) that were statistically identical in size, showed a 32.8% reduction in SV density, and whose target SBCs had a 25.5% reduction in soma area. These results demonstrate that electrical stimulation via a cochlear implant in chemically-deafened cats preserves PSD size but not other aspects of synapse morphology. The results further suggest that the effects of ototoxic deafness are not identical to those of hereditary deafness.
doi:10.1002/cne.22262
PMCID: PMC2935524  PMID: 20127807
cochlear implant; deafness; electrical stimulation; endbulb of Held; ototoxicity
13.  Short-term plasticity and auditory processing in the ventral cochlear nucleus of normal and hearing-impaired animals 
Hearing Research  2011;279(1-2):131-139.
The dynamics of synaptic transmission between neurons plays a major role in neural information processing. In the cochlear nucleus, auditory nerve synapses have a relatively high release probability and show pronounced synaptic depression that, in conjunction with the variability of interspike intervals, shapes the information transmitted to the postsynaptic cells. Cellular mechanisms have been best analyzed at the endbulb synapses, revealing that the recent history of presynaptic activity plays a complex, non-linear, role in regulating release. Emerging evidence suggests that the dynamics of synaptic function differ according to the target neuron within the cochlear nucleus. One consequence of hearing loss is changes in evoked release at surviving auditory nerve synapses, and in some situations spontaneous release is greatly enhanced. In contrast, even with cochlear ablation, postsynaptic excitability is less affected. The existing evidence suggests that different modes of hearing loss can result in different dynamic patterns of synaptic transmission between the auditory nerve and postsynaptic neurons. These changes in dynamics in turn will affect the efficacy with which different kinds of information about the acoustic environment can be processed by the parallel pathways in the cochlear nucleus.
doi:10.1016/j.heares.2011.04.018
PMCID: PMC3280686  PMID: 21586317
14.  Mathematical Models of Cochlear Nucleus Onset Neurons: II. Model with Dynamic Spike-Blocking State 
Onset (On) neurons in the cochlear nucleus (CN), characterized by their prominent response to the onset followed by little or no response to the steady-state of sustained stimuli, have a remarkable ability to entrain (firing 1 spike per cycle of a periodic stimulus) to low-frequency tones up to 1000 Hz. In this article, we present a point-neuron model with independent, excitatory auditory-nerve (AN) inputs that accounts for the ability of On neurons to both produce onset responses for high-frequency tone bursts and entrain to a wide range of low-frequency tones. With a fixed-duration spike-blocking state after a spike (an absolute refractory period), the model produces entrainment to a broad range of low-frequency tones and an On response with short interspike intervals (chopping) for high-frequency tone bursts. To produce On response patterns with no chopping, we introduce a novel, more complex, active membrane model in which the spike-blocking state is maintained until the instantaneous membrane voltage falls below a transition voltage. During the sustained depolarization for a high-frequency tone burst, the new model does not chop because it enters a spike-blocking state after the first spike and fails to leave this state until the membrane voltage returns toward rest at the end of the stimulus. The model entrains to low-frequency tones because the membrane voltage falls below the transition voltage on every cycle when the AN inputs are phase-locked. With the complex membrane model, On response patterns having moderate steady-state activity for high-frequency tone bursts (On-L) are distinguished from those having no steady-state activity (On-I) by requiring fewer AN inputs. Voltage-gated ion channels found in On-responding neurons of the CN may underlie the hypothesized dynamic spike-blocking state. These results provide a mechanistic rationale for distinguishing between the different physiological classes of CN On neurons.
PMCID: PMC2270482  PMID: 12435926
refractory period; state-dependent spike discharge; voltage-gated ion channels; cochlear nucleus
15.  Mathematical Models of Cochlear Nucleus Onset Neurons: I. Point Neuron with Many Weak Synaptic Inputs 
The cochlear nucleus (CN) presents a unique opportunity for quantitatively studying input-output transformations by neurons because it gives rise to a variety of different response types from a relatively homogeneous input source, the auditory nerve (AN). Particularly interesting among CN neurons are Onset (On) neurons, which have a prominent response to the onset of sustained sounds followed by little or no response in the steady-state. On neurons contrast sharply with their AN inputs, which respond vigorously throughout stimuli. On neurons can entrain to stimuli (firing once per cycle of a periodic stimulus) at up to 1000 Hz, unlike their AN inputs. To understand the mechanisms underlying these response patterns, we tested whether an integrate-to-threshold point-neuron model with a fixed refractory period can account for On discharge patterns for tones, systematically examining the effect of membrane time constant and the number and strength of the exclusively excitatory AN synaptic inputs. To produce both onset responses to high-frequency tone bursts and entrainment to a broad range of low-frequency tones, the model must have a short time constant (≈0.125 ms) and a large number (>100) of weak synaptic inputs, properties that are consistent with the electrical properties and anatomy of On-responding cells. With these parameters, the model acts like a coincidence detector with a threshold-like relationship between the instantaneous discharge rates of the output and the inputs. Onset responses to high-frequency tone bursts result because the threshold effect enhances the initial response of the AN inputs and suppresses their relatively lower sustained response. However, when the model entrains across a broad range of frequencies, it also produces short interspike intervals at the onset of high-frequency tone bursts, a response pattern not found in all types of On neurons. These results show a tradeoff, that may be a general property of many neurons, between following rapid stimulus fluctuations and responding without short interspike intervals at the onset of sustained stimuli.
PMCID: PMC2280068  PMID: 12435925
integrate-and-fire model; coincidence detection; cochlear nucleus
16.  Synaptic Transmission at the Cochlear Nucleus Endbulb Synapse during Age-Related Hearing Loss in Mice 
Journal of neurophysiology  2005;94(3):1814-1824.
Summary
Age-related hearing loss (AHL) typically starts from high frequency regions of the cochlea and over time invades lower frequency regions. During this progressive hearing loss, sound-evoked activity in spiral ganglion cells is reduced. DBA mice have an early onset of AHL. In this study, we examined synaptic transmission at the endbulb of Held synapse between auditory nerve fibers and bushy cells in the anterior ventral cochlear nucleus (AVCN). Synaptic transmission in hearing-impaired high frequency areas of the AVCN was altered in old DBA mice. The spontaneous mEPSC frequency was greatly reduced (∼60%), and mEPSCs were significantly slower (∼115%) and smaller (∼70%) in high frequency regions of old (average age 45d) DBA mice compared to tonotopically matched regions of young (average age 22d) DBA mice. Moreover, synaptic release probability was about 30% higher in high frequency regions of young DBA than that in old DBA mice. Auditory nerve-evoked EPSCs showed less rectification in old DBA mice, suggesting recruitment of GluR2 subunits into the AMPA receptor complex. No similar age-related changes in synaptic release or EPSCs were found in age matched, normal hearing young and old CBA mice. Taken together, our results suggest that auditory nerve activity plays a critical role in maintaining normal synaptic function at the endbulb of Held synapse after the onset of hearing. Auditory nerve activity regulates both presynaptic (release probability) and postsynaptic (receptor composition and kinetics) function at the endbulb synapse after the onset of hearing.
doi:10.1152/jn.00374.2005
PMCID: PMC1941703  PMID: 15901757
Auditory; Deafness; Synaptic transmission; EPSC; Endbulb of Held; AMPA receptors
17.  Difference in response reliability predicted by spectrotemporal tuning in the cochlear nuclei of barn owls 
The brainstem auditory pathway is obligatory for all aural information. Brainstem auditory neurons must encode the level and timing of sounds, as well as their time-dependent spectral properties, the fine structure and envelope, which are essential for sound discrimination. This study focused on envelope coding in the two cochlear nuclei of the barn owl, nucleus angularis (NA) and nucleus magnocellularis (NM). NA and NM receive input from bifurcating auditory nerve fibers and initiate processing pathways specialized in encoding interaural time (ITD) and level (ILD) differences, respectively. We found that NA neurons, though unable to accurately encode stimulus phase, lock more strongly to the stimulus envelope than NM units. The spectrotemporal receptive fields (STRFs) of NA neurons exhibit a pre-excitatory suppressive field. Using multilinear regression analysis and computational modeling, we show that this feature of STRFs can account for enhanced across-trial response reliability, by locking spikes to the stimulus envelope. Our findings indicate a dichotomy in envelope coding between the time and intensity processing pathways as early as at the level of the cochlear nuclei. This allows the ILD processing pathway to encode envelope information with greater fidelity than the ITD processing pathway. Furthermore, we demonstrate that the properties of the neurons’ STRFs can be quantitatively related to spike timing reliability.
doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.5422-10.2011
PMCID: PMC3059808  PMID: 21368035
Nucleus angularis; STRF; spectrotemporal tuning; cochlear nuclei; barn owl; response reliability
18.  Ultrastructure, synaptic organization, and molecular components of bushy cell networks in the anteroventral cochlear nucleus of the rhesus monkey 
Neuroscience  2011;179:188-207.
Bushy cells (BCs) process auditory information in the ventral cochlear nucleus (VCN). Yet, most neuroanatomical findings come from studies in cats and rodents, and the ultrastructural morphological features of BCs in humans and higher nonhuman primates are unknown. In this study, we combined histological, immunocytochemical, and ultrastructural methods to examine the morphology and synaptic organization of BCs in the rhesus monkey VCN. We observed that BCs were organized in a complex neural network that appears to interconnect the cells. The fine structure of BC somata and dendrites, as well as their synaptic inputs, are similar to those in other mammals. We found that BCs received numerous endbulb-like VGLUT1- and VGLUT2-immunopositive endings. In addition, they expressed glutamate AMPA (GluR2/3 and GluR4), NMDA (NR1), delta1/2 receptor subunits, and the α1 subunit of the glycine receptor. These receptor types and subunits mediate fast excitatory synaptic transmission from the cochlea and inhibitory neurotransmission from noncochlear inputs. Parvalbumin immunostaining and semithin sections showed that BC dendrites are oriented toward neighboring BC somas to form neuronal clusters. Within the cluster, the incoming inputs established multiple, divergent synaptic contacts. Thus, BCs were connected by specialized dendrosomatic and somasomatic membrane junctions. Our results indicate that the cytoarchitectural organization of BCs is well conserved between primates and other mammalian species.
doi:10.1016/j.neuroscience.2011.01.058
PMCID: PMC3059371  PMID: 21284951
cochlear nucleus; electron microscopy; gap junctions; immunohistochemistry; synaptic integration; synchronization
19.  Postsynaptic Targets of Type II Auditory Nerve Fibers in the Cochlear Nucleus.  
Type II auditory nerve fibers, which provide the primary afferent innervation of outer hair cells of the cochlea, project thin fibers centrally and form synapses in the cochlear nucleus. We investigated the postsynaptic targets of these synapses, which are unknown. Using serial-section electron microscopy of fibers labeled with horseradish peroxidase, we examined the border of the granule-cell lamina in mice, an area of type II termination that receives branches having swellings with complex shapes. About 70% of the swellings examined with the electron microscope formed morphological synapses, which is a much higher value than found in previous studies of type II swellings in other parts of the cochlear nucleus. The high percentage of synapses enabled a number of postsynaptic targets to be identified. Most of the targets were small dendrites. Two of these dendrites were traced to their somata of origin, which were cochlear-nucleus “small cells” situated at the border of the granule-cell lamina. These cells did not appear to receive any terminals containing synaptic vesicles that were large and round, indicating a lack of input from type I auditory nerve fibers. Nor did type II swellings or targets participate in the synaptic glomeruli formed by mossy terminals and the dendrites of granule cells. Other type II synapses were axosomatic and their targets were large cells, which were presumed multipolar cells and one cell with characteristics of a globular bushy cell. These large cells almost certainly receive additional input from type I auditory nerve fibers, which provide the afferent innervation of the cochlear inner hair cells. A few type II postsynaptic targets—the two small cells as well as a large dendrite—received synapses that had accompanying postsynaptic bodies, a likely marker for synapses of medial olivocochlear branches. These targets thus probably receive convergent input from type II fibers and medial olivocochlear branches. The diverse nature of the type II targets and the examples of segregated convergence of other inputs illustrates the synaptic complexity of type II input to the cochlear nucleus.
doi:10.1007/s10162-003-4012-3
PMCID: PMC2538406  PMID: 15357415
outer hair cell; olivocochlear; small cell; multipolar cell; granule cell
20.  Cell-type specific short-term plasticity at auditory nerve synapses controls feed-forward inhibition in the dorsal cochlear nucleus 
Feed-forward inhibition (FFI) represents a powerful mechanism by which control of the timing and fidelity of action potentials in local synaptic circuits of various brain regions is achieved. In the cochlear nucleus, the auditory nerve provides excitation to both principal neurons and inhibitory interneurons. Here, we investigated the synaptic circuit associated with fusiform cells (FCs), principal neurons of the dorsal cochlear nucleus (DCN) that receive excitation from auditory nerve fibers and inhibition from tuberculoventral cells (TVCs) on their basal dendrites in the deep layer of DCN. Despite the importance of these inputs in regulating fusiform cell firing behavior, the mechanisms determining the balance of excitation and FFI in this circuit are not well understood. Therefore, we examined the timing and plasticity of auditory nerve driven FFI onto FCs. We find that in some FCs, excitatory and inhibitory components of FFI had the same stimulation thresholds indicating they could be triggered by activation of the same fibers. In other FCs, excitation and inhibition exhibit different stimulus thresholds, suggesting FCs and TVCs might be activated by different sets of fibers. In addition, we find that during repetitive activation, synapses formed by the auditory nerve onto TVCs and FCs exhibit distinct modes of short-term plasticity. Feed-forward inhibitory post-synaptic currents (IPSCs) in FCs exhibit short-term depression because of prominent synaptic depression at the auditory nerve-TVC synapse. Depression of this feedforward inhibitory input causes a shift in the balance of fusiform cell synaptic input towards greater excitation and suggests that fusiform cell spike output will be enhanced by physiological patterns of auditory nerve activity.
doi:10.3389/fncir.2014.00078
PMCID: PMC4081852  PMID: 25071459
dorsal cochlear nucleus; auditory nerve; synaptic transmission; synaptic plasticity; feedforward inhibition
21.  The Multiple Functions of T Stellate/Multipolar/Chopper Cells in the Ventral Cochlear Nucleus 
Hearing research  2010;276(1-2):61-69.
Acoustic information is brought to the brain by auditory nerve fibers, all of which terminate in the cochlear nuclei, and is passed up the auditory pathway through the principal cells of the cochlear nuclei. A population of neurons variously known as T stellate, type I multipolar, planar multipolar, or chopper cells forms one of the major ascending auditory pathways through the brain stem. T Stellate cells are sharply tuned; as a population they encode the spectrum of sounds. In these neurons, phasic excitation from the auditory nerve is made more tonic by feed forward excitation, coactivation of inhibitory with excitatory inputs, relatively large excitatory currents through NMDA receptors, and relatively little synaptic depression. The mechanisms that make firing tonic also obscure the fine structure of sounds that is represented in the excitatory inputs from the auditory nerve and account for the characteristic chopping response patterns with which T stellate cells respond to tones. In contrast with other principal cells of the ventral cochlear nucleus (VCN), T stellate cells lack a low-voltage-activated potassium conductance and are therefore sensitive to small, steady, neuromodulating currents. The presence of cholinergic, serotonergic and noradrenergic receptors allows the excitability of these cells to be modulated by medial olivocochlear efferent neurons and by neuronal circuits associated with arousal. T Stellate cells deliver acoustic information to the ipsilateral dorsal cochlear nucleus (DCN), ventral nucleus of the trapezoid body (VNTB), periolivary regions around the lateral superior olivary nucleus (LSO), and to the contralateral ventral lemniscal nuclei (VNLL) and inferior colliculus (IC). It is likely that T stellate cells participate in feedback loops through both medial and lateral olivocochlear efferent neurons and they may be a source of ipsilateral excitation of the LSO.
doi:10.1016/j.heares.2010.10.018
PMCID: PMC3078527  PMID: 21056098
ventral cochlear nucleus; brainstem auditory pathways; ion channels; patch-clamp recording
22.  Postnatal Development of the Endbulb of Held in Congenitally Deaf Cats 
The endbulbs of Held are formed by the ascending branches of myelinated auditory nerve fibers and represent one of the largest synaptic endings in the brain. Normally, these endings are highly branched and each can form up to 1000 dome-shaped synapses. The deaf white cat is a model of congenital deafness involving a type of cochleosaccular degeneration that mimics the Scheibe deformity in humans. Endbulbs of mature deaf white cats exhibit reduced branching, hypertrophy of postsynaptic densities (PSDs), and changes in synaptic vesicle density. Because cats are essentially deaf at birth, we sought to determine if the progression of brain abnormalities was linked in time to the failure of normal hearing development. The rationale was that the lack of sound-evoked activity would trigger pathologic change in deaf kittens. The cochleae of deaf cats did not exhibit abnormal morphology at birth. After the first postnatal week, however, the presence of a collapsed scala media signaled the difference between deaf and hearing cats. By working backwards in age, endbulbs of deaf cats expressed flattened and elongated PSDs and increased synaptic vesicle density as compared to normal endbulbs. These differences are present at birth in some white kittens, presaging deafness despite their normal cochlear histology. We speculate that hearing pathology is signaled by a perinatal loss of spontaneous bursting activity in auditory nerve fibers or perhaps by some factor released by hair cell synapses before obliteration of the organ of Corti.
doi:10.3389/fnana.2010.00019
PMCID: PMC2904654  PMID: 20640179
auditory nerve; cochlear nucleus; hearing synapse; ultrastructure
23.  Origin and function of short-latency inputs to the neural substrates underlying the acoustic startle reflex 
The acoustic startle reflex (ASR) is a survival mechanism of alarm, which rapidly alerts the organism to a sudden loud auditory stimulus. In rats, the primary ASR circuit encompasses three serially connected structures: cochlear root neurons (CRNs), neurons in the caudal pontine reticular nucleus (PnC), and motoneurons in the medulla and spinal cord. It is well-established that both CRNs and PnC neurons receive short-latency auditory inputs to mediate the ASR. Here, we investigated the anatomical origin and functional role of these inputs using a multidisciplinary approach that combines morphological, electrophysiological and behavioral techniques. Anterograde tracer injections into the cochlea suggest that CRNs somata and dendrites receive inputs depending, respectively, on their basal or apical cochlear origin. Confocal colocalization experiments demonstrated that these cochlear inputs are immunopositive for the vesicular glutamate transporter 1 (VGLUT1). Using extracellular recordings in vivo followed by subsequent tracer injections, we investigated the response of PnC neurons after contra-, ipsi-, and bilateral acoustic stimulation and identified the source of their auditory afferents. Our results showed that the binaural firing rate of PnC neurons was higher than the monaural, exhibiting higher spike discharges with contralateral than ipsilateral acoustic stimulations. Our histological analysis confirmed the CRNs as the principal source of short-latency acoustic inputs, and indicated that other areas of the cochlear nucleus complex are not likely to innervate PnC. Behaviorally, we observed a strong reduction of ASR amplitude in monaural earplugged rats that corresponds with the binaural summation process shown in our electrophysiological findings. Our study contributes to understand better the role of neuronal mechanisms in auditory alerting behaviors and provides strong evidence that the CRNs-PnC pathway mediates fast neurotransmission and binaural summation of the ASR.
doi:10.3389/fnins.2014.00216
PMCID: PMC4110630  PMID: 25120419
alertness system; binaural summation; cochlear root neurons; extracellular recordings; neuronal tracers; pontine reticular formation; rat; vglut1-auditory nerve
24.  Voltage-activated Calcium Currents in Octopus Cells of the Mouse Cochlear Nucleus 
Octopus cells, neurons in the most posterior and dorsal part of the mammalian ventral cochlear nucleus, convey the timing of synchronous firing of auditory nerve fibers to targets in the contralateral superior paraolivary nucleus and ventral nucleus of the lateral lemniscus. The low input resistances and short time constants at rest that arise from the partial activation of a large, low-voltage-activated K+ conductance (gKL) and a large mixed-cation, hyperpolarization-activated conductance (gh) enable octopus cells to detect coincident firing of auditory nerve fibers with exceptional temporal precision. Octopus cells fire conventional, Na+ action potentials but a voltage-sensitive Ca2+ conductance was also detected. In this study, we explore the nature of that calcium conductance under voltage-clamp. Currents, carried by Ca2+ or Ba2+ and blocked by 0.4 mM Cd2+, were activated by depolarizations positive to −50 mV and peaked at −23 mV. At −23 mV they reached 1.1 ± 0.1 nA in the presence of 5 mM Ca2+ and 1.6 ± 0.1 nA in 5 mM Ba2+. Ten micromolar BAY K 8644, an agonist of high-voltage-activated L-type channels, enhanced IBa by 63 ± 11% (n = 8) and 150 μM nifedipine, an antagonist of L-type channels, reduced the IBa by 65 ± 5% (n = 5). Meanwhile, 0.5 μM ω-Agatoxin IVA, an antagonist of P/Q-type channels, or 1 μM ω-conotoxin GVIA, an antagonist of N-type channels, suppressed IBa by 15 ± 4% (n = 5) and 9 ± 4% (n = 5), respectively. On average 16% of the current remained in the presence of the cocktail of blockers, indicative of the presence of R-type channels. Together these experiments show that octopus cells have a depolarization-sensitive gCa that is largely formed from L-type Ca2+ channels and that P/Q-, N-, and R-type channels are expressed at lower levels in octopus cells.
doi:10.1007/s10162-007-0091-x
PMCID: PMC2538346  PMID: 17710492
voltage-sensitive calcium channels;  cochlear nucleus; hearing; patch clamp; brain slices
25.  Stochastic Properties of Neurotransmitter Release Expand the Dynamic Range of Synapses 
The Journal of Neuroscience  2013;33(36):14406-14416.
Release of neurotransmitter is an inherently random process, which could degrade the reliability of postsynaptic spiking, even at relatively large synapses. This is particularly important at auditory synapses, where the rate and precise timing of spikes carry information about sounds. However, the functional consequences of the stochastic properties of release are unknown. We addressed this issue at the mouse endbulb of Held synapse, which is formed by auditory nerve fibers onto bushy cells (BCs) in the anteroventral cochlear nucleus. We used voltage clamp to characterize synaptic variability. Dynamic clamp was used to compare BC spiking with stochastic or deterministic synaptic input. The stochastic component increased the responsiveness of the BC to conductances that were on average subthreshold, thereby increasing the dynamic range of the synapse. This had the benefit that BCs relayed auditory nerve activity even when synapses showed significant depression during rapid activity. However, the precision of spike timing decreased with stochastic conductances, suggesting a trade-off between encoding information in spike timing versus probability. These effects were confirmed in fiber stimulation experiments, indicating that they are physiologically relevant, and that synaptic randomness, dynamic range, and jitter are causally related.
doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2487-13.2013
PMCID: PMC3761050  PMID: 24005293

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