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1.  Astrocyte-Secreted Factors Modulate a Gradient of Primary Dendritic Arbors in Nucleus Laminaris of the Avian Auditory Brainstem 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(11):e27383.
Neurons in nucleus laminaris (NL) receive binaural, tonotopically matched input from nucleus magnocelluaris (NM) onto bitufted dendrites that display a gradient of dendritic arbor size. These features improve computation of interaural time differences, which are used to determine the locations of sound sources. The dendritic gradient emerges following a period of significant reorganization at embryonic day 15 (E15), which coincides with the emergence of astrocytes that express glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP) in the auditory brainstem. The major changes include a loss of total dendritic length, a systematic loss of primary dendrites along the tonotopic axis, and lengthening of primary dendrites on caudolateral NL neurons. Here we have tested whether astrocyte-derived molecules contribute to these changes in dendritic morphology. We used an organotypic brainstem slice preparation to perform repeated imaging of individual dye-filled NL neurons to determine the effects of astrocyte-conditioned medium (ACM) on dendritic morphology. We found that treatment with ACM induced a decrease in the number of primary dendrites in a tonotopically graded manner similar to that observed during normal development. Our data introduce a new interaction between astrocytes and neurons in the auditory brainstem and suggest that these astrocytes influence multiple aspects of auditory brainstem maturation.
PMCID: PMC3210166  PMID: 22087304
2.  Mechanisms for Adjusting Interaural Time Differences to Achieve Binaural Coincidence Detection 
Understanding binaural perception requires detailed analyses of the neural circuitry responsible for the computation of interaural time differences (ITDs). In the avian brainstem, this circuit consists of internal axonal delay lines innervating an array of coincidence detector neurons that encode external ITDs. Nucleus magnocellularis (NM) neurons project to the dorsal dendritic field of the ipsilateral nucleus laminaris (NL) and to the ventral field of the contralateral NL. Contralateral-projecting axons form a delay line system along a band of NL neurons. Binaural acoustic signals in the form of phase-locked action potentials from NM cells arrive at NL and establish a topographic map of sound source location along the azimuth. These pathways are assumed to represent a circuit similar to the Jeffress model of sound localization, establishing a place code along an isofrequency contour of NL. Three-dimensional measurements of axon lengths reveal major discrepancies with the current model; the temporal offset based on conduction length alone makes encoding of physiological ITDs impossible. However, axon diameter and distances between Nodes of Ranvier also influence signal propagation times along an axon. Our measurements of these parameters reveal that diameter and internode distance can compensate for the temporal offset inferred from axon lengths alone. Together with other recent studies these unexpected results should inspire new thinking on the cellular biology, evolution and plasticity of the circuitry underlying low frequency sound localization in both birds and mammals.
PMCID: PMC2822993  PMID: 20053889
Sound; Localization; Auditory; Brainstem; Axon; Conduction; Velocity
3.  Theoretical foundations of the sound analog membrane potential that underlies coincidence detection in the barn owl 
A wide variety of neurons encode temporal information via phase-locked spikes. In the avian auditory brainstem, neurons in the cochlear nucleus magnocellularis (NM) send phase-locked synaptic inputs to coincidence detector neurons in the nucleus laminaris (NL) that mediate sound localization. Previous modeling studies suggested that converging phase-locked synaptic inputs may give rise to a periodic oscillation in the membrane potential of their target neuron. Recent physiological recordings in vivo revealed that owl NL neurons changed their spike rates almost linearly with the amplitude of this oscillatory potential. The oscillatory potential was termed the sound analog potential, because of its resemblance to the waveform of the stimulus tone. The amplitude of the sound analog potential recorded in NL varied systematically with the interaural time difference (ITD), which is one of the most important cues for sound localization. In order to investigate the mechanisms underlying ITD computation in the NM-NL circuit, we provide detailed theoretical descriptions of how phase-locked inputs form oscillating membrane potentials. We derive analytical expressions that relate presynaptic, synaptic, and postsynaptic factors to the signal and noise components of the oscillation in both the synaptic conductance and the membrane potential. Numerical simulations demonstrate the validity of the theoretical formulations for the entire frequency ranges tested (1–8 kHz) and potential effects of higher harmonics on NL neurons with low best frequencies (<2 kHz).
PMCID: PMC3821005  PMID: 24265616
phase-locking; sound localization; auditory brainstem; periodic signals; oscillation; owl
4.  Topography and Morphology of the Inhibitory Projection From Superior Olivary Nucleus to Nucleus Laminaris in Chickens (Gallus gallus) 
The avian nucleus laminaris (NL) is involved in computation of interaural time differences (ITDs) that encode the azimuthal position of a sound source. Neurons in NL are bipolar, with dorsal and ventral dendritic arbors receiving input from separate ears. NL neurons act as coincidence detectors that respond maximally when input from each ear arrives at the two dendritic arbors simultaneously. Computational and physiological studies demonstrated that the sensitivity of NL neurons to coincident inputs is modulated by an inhibitory feedback circuit via the superior olivary nucleus (SON). To understand the mechanism of this modulation, the topography of the projection from SON to NL was mapped, and the morphology of the axon terminals of SON neurons in NL was examined in chickens (Gallus gallus). In vivo injection of AlexaFluor 568 dextran amine into SON demonstrated a coarse topographic projection from SON to NL. Retrogradely labeled neurons in NL were located within the zone of anterogradely labeled terminals, suggesting a reciprocal projection from SON to NL. In vivo extracellular physiological recording further demonstrated that this topography is consistent with tonotopic maps in SON and NL. In addition, three-dimensional reconstruction of single SON axon branches within NL revealed that individual SON neurons innervate a large area of NL and terminate on both dorsal and ventral dendritic arbors of NL neurons. The organization of the projection from SON to NL supports its proposed functions of controlling the overall activity level of NL and enhancing the specificity of frequency mapping and ITD detection.
PMCID: PMC3299086  PMID: 21165979
auditory brainstem; axonal projection; γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA); interaural time difference (ITD); tonotopic organization
5.  Change in the coding of interaural time difference along the tonotopic axis of the chicken nucleus laminaris 
Interaural time differences (ITDs) are an important cue for the localization of sounds in azimuthal space. Both birds and mammals have specialized, tonotopically organized nuclei in the brain stem for the processing of ITD: medial superior olive in mammals and nucleus laminaris (NL) in birds. The specific way in which ITDs are derived was long assumed to conform to a delay-line model in which arrays of systematically arranged cells create a representation of auditory space with different cells responding maximally to specific ITDs. This model was supported by data from barn owl NL taken from regions above 3 kHz and from chicken above 1 kHz. However, data from mammals often do not show defining features of the Jeffress model such as a systematic topographic representation of best ITDs or the presence of axonal delay lines, and an alternative has been proposed in which neurons are not topographically arranged with respect to ITD and coding occurs through the assessment of the overall response of two large neuron populations, one in each hemisphere. Modeling studies have suggested that the presence of different coding systems could be related to the animal’s head size and frequency range rather than their phylogenetic group. Testing this hypothesis requires data from across the tonotopic range of both birds and mammals. The aim of this study was to obtain in vivo recordings from neurons in the low-frequency range (<1000 Hz) of chicken NL. Our data argues for the presence of a modified Jeffress system that uses the slopes of ITD-selective response functions instead of their peaks to topographically represent ITD at mid- to high frequencies. At low frequencies, below several 100 Hz, the data did not support any current model of ITD coding. This is different to what was previously shown in the barn owl and suggests that constraints in optimal ITD processing may be associated with the particular demands on sound localization determined by the animal’s ecological niche in the same way as other perceptual systems such as field of best vision.
PMCID: PMC4542463  PMID: 26347616
interaural time differences; chickens; auditory brainstem; nucleus laminaris; in vivo electrophysiology
6.  Developmental Changes Underlying the Formation of the Specialized Time Coding Circuits in Barn Owls (Tyto alba) 
The Journal of Neuroscience  2002;22(17):7671-7679.
Barn owls are capable of great accuracy in detecting the interaural time differences (ITDs) that underlie azimuthal sound localization. They compute ITDs in a circuit in nucleus laminaris (NL) that is reorganized with respect to birds like the chicken. The events that lead to the reorganization of the barn owl NL take place during embryonic development, shortly after the cochlear and laminaris nuclei have differentiated morphologically. At first the developing owl’s auditory brainstem exhibits morphology reminiscent of that of the developing chicken. Later, the two systems diverge, and the owl’s brainstem auditory nuclei undergo a secondary morphogenetic phase during which NL dendrites retract, the laminar organization is lost, and synapses are redistributed. These events lead to the restructuring of the ITD coding circuit and the consequent reorganization of the hindbrain map of ITDs and azimuthal space.
PMCID: PMC3260528  PMID: 12196590
avian development; morphogenesis; auditory; laminaris; evolution; interaural time difference
7.  Biophysical basis of the sound analog membrane potential that underlies coincidence detection in the barn owl 
Interaural time difference (ITD), or the difference in timing of a sound wave arriving at the two ears, is a fundamental cue for sound localization. A wide variety of animals have specialized neural circuits dedicated to the computation of ITDs. In the avian auditory brainstem, ITDs are encoded as the spike rates in the coincidence detector neurons of the nucleus laminaris (NL). NL neurons compare the binaural phase-locked inputs from the axons of ipsi- and contralateral nucleus magnocellularis (NM) neurons. Intracellular recordings from the barn owl's NL in vivo showed that tonal stimuli induce oscillations in the membrane potential. Since this oscillatory potential resembled the stimulus sound waveform, it was named the sound analog potential (Funabiki et al., 2011). Previous modeling studies suggested that a convergence of phase-locked spikes from NM leads to an oscillatory membrane potential in NL, but how presynaptic, synaptic, and postsynaptic factors affect the formation of the sound analog potential remains to be investigated. In the accompanying paper, we derive analytical relations between these parameters and the signal and noise components of the oscillation. In this paper, we focus on the effects of the number of presynaptic NM fibers, the mean firing rate of these fibers, their average degree of phase-locking, and the synaptic time scale. Theoretical analyses and numerical simulations show that, provided the total synaptic input is kept constant, changes in the number and spike rate of NM fibers alter the ITD-independent noise whereas the degree of phase-locking is linearly converted to the ITD-dependent signal component of the sound analog potential. The synaptic time constant affects the signal more prominently than the noise, making faster synaptic input more suitable for effective ITD computation.
PMCID: PMC3821004  PMID: 24265615
phase-locking; sound localization; auditory brainstem; periodic signals; oscillation; owl
8.  Neuronal specializations for the processing of interaural difference cues in the chick 
Sound information is encoded as a series of spikes of the auditory nerve fibers (ANFs), and then transmitted to the brainstem auditory nuclei. Features such as timing and level are extracted from ANFs activity and further processed as the interaural time difference (ITD) and the interaural level difference (ILD), respectively. These two interaural difference cues are used for sound source localization by behaving animals. Both cues depend on the head size of animals and are extremely small, requiring specialized neural properties in order to process these cues with precision. Moreover, the sound level and timing cues are not processed independently from one another. Neurons in the nucleus angularis (NA) are specialized for coding sound level information in birds and the ILD is processed in the posterior part of the dorsal lateral lemniscus nucleus (LLDp). Processing of ILD is affected by the phase difference of binaural sound. Temporal features of sound are encoded in the pathway starting in nucleus magnocellularis (NM), and ITD is processed in the nucleus laminaris (NL). In this pathway a variety of specializations are found in synapse morphology, neuronal excitability, distribution of ion channels and receptors along the tonotopic axis, which reduces spike timing fluctuation in the ANFs-NM synapse, and imparts precise and stable ITD processing to the NL. Moreover, the contrast of ITD processing in NL is enhanced over a wide range of sound level through the activity of GABAergic inhibitory systems from both the superior olivary nucleus (SON) and local inhibitory neurons that follow monosynaptic to NM activity.
PMCID: PMC4023016  PMID: 24847212
brainstem auditory nucleus; interaural difference cues; SON; tonic inhibition; phasic inhibition
9.  Bilateral matching of frequency tuning in neural cross-correlators of the owl 
Biological cybernetics  2009;100(6):521-531.
Sound localization requires comparison between the inputs to the left and right ears. One important aspect of this comparison is the differences in arrival time to each side, also called interaural time difference (ITD).A prevalent model of ITD detection, consisting of delay lines and coincidence-detector neurons, was proposed by Jeffress (J Comp Physiol Psychol 41:35–39, 1948). As an extension of the Jeffress model, the process of detecting and encoding ITD has been compared to an effective cross-correlation between the input signals to the two ears. Because the cochlea performs a spectrotemporal decomposition of the input signal, this cross-correlation takes place over narrow frequency bands. Since the cochlear tonotopy is arranged in series, sounds of different frequencies will trigger neural activity with different temporal delays. Thus, the matching of the frequency tuning of the left and right inputs to the cross-correlator units becomes a ‘timing’ issue. These properties of auditory transduction gave theoretical support to an alternative model of ITD-detection based on a bilateral mismatch in frequency tuning, called the ‘stereausis’ model. Here we first review the current literature on the owl’s nucleus laminaris, the equivalent to the medial superior olive of mammals, which is the site where ITD is detected. Subsequently, we use reverse correlation analysis and stimulation with uncorrelated sounds to extract the effective monaural inputs to the cross-correlator neurons. We show that when the left and right inputs to the cross-correlators are defined in this manner, the computation performed by coincidence-detector neurons satisfies conditions of cross-correlation theory. We also show that the spectra of left and right inputs are matched, which is consistent with predictions made by the classic model put forth by Jeffress.
PMCID: PMC2719282  PMID: 19396457
Barn owl; Interaural time difference; Cross-correlation; Coincidence detection; Cochlear delays; Sound localization; Nucleus laminaris; Stereausis
10.  The analysis of interaural time differences in the chick brain stem 
Physiology & behavior  2005;86(3):297-305.
The brain stem auditory system of the chick has proven to be a useful model system for analyzing how the brain encodes temporal information. This paper reviews some of the work on a circuit in the brain stem that compares the timing of information coming from the two ears to determine the location of a sound source. The contralateral projection from the cochlear nucleus, nucleus magnocellularis (NM), to nucleus laminaris (NL) forms a delay line as it proceeds from medial to lateral across NL. NL neurons function like coincidence detectors in that they respond maximally when input from the two ears arrive simultaneously. This arrangement may allow NL to code sound space by the relative level of activity across the nucleus. The head anatomy of the chick allows for enhancement of the functional interaural time differences. Comparing the functional interaural time differences to the length of the neural delay line suggests that each NL can encode approximately one hemifield of sound space. Finally it is suggested that inhibitory input into the NM–NL circuit may provide a means to dynamically adjust the gain of the circuit to allow accurate coding of sound location despite changes in overall sound intensity.
PMCID: PMC1847356  PMID: 16202434
Auditory system; Sound localization; Nucleus magnocellularis; Nucleus laminaris; Coincidence detection; Interaural canal; GABA
11.  Heterogeneous Calretinin Expression in the Avian Cochlear Nucleus Angularis 
Multiple calcium-binding proteins (CaBPs) are expressed at high levels and in complementary patterns in the auditory pathways of birds, mammals, and other vertebrates, but whether specific members of the CaBP family can be used to identify neuronal subpopulations is unclear. We used double immunofluorescence labeling of calretinin (CR) in combination with neuronal markers to investigate the distribution of CR-expressing neurons in brainstem sections of the cochlear nucleus in the chicken (Gallus gallus domesticus). While CR was homogeneously expressed in cochlear nucleus magnocellularis, CR expression was highly heterogeneous in cochlear nucleus angularis (NA), a nucleus with diverse cell types analogous in function to neurons in the mammalian ventral cochlear nucleus. To quantify the distribution of CR in the total NA cell population, we used antibodies against neuronal nuclear protein (NeuN), a postmitotic neuron-specific nuclear marker. In NA neurons, NeuN label was variably localized to the cell nucleus and the cytoplasm, and the intensity of NeuN immunoreactivity was inversely correlated with the intensity of CR immunoreactivity. The percentage of CR + neurons in NA increased from 31 % in embryonic (E)17/18 chicks, to 44 % around hatching (E21), to 51 % in postnatal day (P) 8 chicks. By P8, the distribution of CR + neurons was uniform, both rostrocaudal and in the tonotopic (dorsoventral) axis. Immunoreactivity for the voltage-gated potassium ion channel Kv1.1, used as a marker for physiological type, showed broad and heterogeneous postsynaptic expression in NA, but did not correlate with CR expression. These results suggest that CR may define a subpopulation of neurons within nucleus angularis.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s10162-014-0453-0) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4141438  PMID: 24752525
calretinin; NeuN; cochlear nucleus; avian; calcium binding protein; Kv1.1; potassium channel
12.  Avian Adeno-Associated Virus Vector Efficiently Transduces Neurons in the Embryonic and Post-Embryonic Chicken Brain 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(11):e48730.
The domestic chicken is an attractive model system to explore the development and function of brain circuits. Electroporation-mediated and retrovirus (including lentivirus) vector-mediated gene transfer techniques have been widely used to introduce genetic material into chicken cells. However, it is still challenging to efficiently transduce chicken postmitotic neurons without harming the cells. To overcome this problem, we searched for a virus vector suitable for gene transfer into chicken neurons, and report here a novel recombinant virus vector derived from avian adeno-associated virus (A3V). A3V vector efficiently transduces neuronal cells, but not non-neuronal cells in the brain. A single A3V injection into a postembryonic chick brain allows gene expression selectively in neuronal cells within 24 hrs. Such rapid and neuron-specific gene transduction raises the possibility that A3V vector can be utilized for studies of memory formation in filial imprinting, which occurs during the early postnatal days. A3V injection into the neural tube near the ear vesicle at early embryonic stage resulted in persistent and robust gene expression until E20.5 in the auditory brainstem. We further devised an A3V-mediated tetracycline (Tet) dependent gene expression system as a tool for studying the auditory circuit, consisting of the nucleus magnocellularis (NM) and nucleus laminaris (NL), that primarily computes interaural time differences (ITDs). Using this Tet system, we can transduce NM neurons without affecting NL neurons. Thus, the A3V technology complements current gene transfer techniques in chicken studies and will contribute to better understanding of the functional organization of neural circuits.
PMCID: PMC3492410  PMID: 23144948
13.  Differential Conduction Velocity Regulation in Ipsilateral and Contralateral Collaterals Innervating Brainstem Coincidence Detector Neurons 
The Journal of Neuroscience  2014;34(14):4914-4919.
Information processing in the brain relies on precise timing of signal propagation. The highly conserved neuronal network for computing spatial representations of acoustic signals resolves microsecond timing of sounds processed by the two ears. As such, it provides an excellent model for understanding how precise temporal regulation of neuronal signals is achieved and maintained. The well described avian and mammalian brainstem circuit for computation of interaural time differences is composed of monaural cells in the cochlear nucleus (CN; nucleus magnocellularis in birds) projecting to binaurally innervated coincidence detection neurons in the medial superior olivary nucleus (MSO) in mammals or nucleus laminaris (NL) in birds. Individual axons from CN neurons issue a single axon that bifurcates into an ipsilateral branch and a contralateral branch that innervate segregated dendritic regions of the MSO/NL coincidence detector neurons. We measured conduction velocities of the ipsilateral and contralateral branches of these bifurcating axon collaterals in the chicken by antidromic stimulation of two sites along each branch and whole-cell recordings in the parent neurons. At the end of each experiment, the individual CN neuron and its axon collaterals were filled with dye. We show that the two collaterals of a single axon adjust the conduction velocities individually to achieve the specific conduction velocities essential for precise temporal integration of information from the two ears, as required for sound localization. More generally, these results suggest that individual axonal segments in the CNS interact locally with surrounding neural structures to determine conduction velocity.
PMCID: PMC3972718  PMID: 24695710
conduction velocity regulation; myelin plasticity; sound localization
14.  TrkB downregulation is required for dendrite retraction in developing neurons of chicken nucleus magnocellularis 
The chick embryo (Gallus domesticus) is one of the most important model systems in vertebrate developmental biology. The development and function of its auditory brainstem circuitry is exceptionally well studied. These circuits represent an excellent system for genetic manipulation to investigate mechanisms controlling neural circuit formation, synaptogenesis, neuronal polarity and dendritic arborization. The present study investigates the auditory nucleus, nucleus magnocellularis (NM). The neurotrophin receptor TrkB regulates dendritic structure in CNS neurons. TrkB is expressed at NM neurons at E7–E8 when these neurons have dendritic arbors. Downregulation of TrkB occurs after E8 followed by retraction of dendrites and by E18 most NM cells are adendritic. Is cessation of TrkB expression in NM necessary for dendritic retraction? To answer this question we combined focal in ovo electroporation with transposon mediated gene transfer to obtain stable expression of Doxycycline (Dox) regulated transgenes, specifically TrkB coexpressed with EGFP in a temporally controlled manner. Electroporation was performed at E2 and Dox added onto the chorioallointoic membrane from E7.5 to E16. Expression of EGFP had no effect on development of the embryo, or cell morphology and organization of auditory brainstem nuclei. NM cells expressing EGFP and TrkB at E17–E18 had dendrites and biophysical properties uncharacteristic for normal NM cells, indicating that cessation of TrkB expression is essential for dendrite retraction and functional maturation of these neurons. These studies indicate that expression of transposon based plasmids is an effective method to genetically manipulate events in mid to late embryonic brain development in chick.
PMCID: PMC3495173  PMID: 23035107
15.  Detection of Interaural Time Differences in the Alligator 
The auditory systems of birds and mammals use timing information from each ear to detect interaural time difference (ITD). To determine whether the Jeffress-type algorithms that underlie sensitivity to ITD in birds are an evolutionarily stable strategy, we recorded from the auditory nuclei of crocodilians, who are the sister group to the birds. In alligators, precisely timed spikes in the first-order nucleus magnocellularis (NM) encode the timing of sounds, and NM neurons project to neurons in the nucleus laminaris (NL) that detect interaural time differences. In vivo recordings from NL neurons show that the arrival time of phase-locked spikes differs between the ipsilateral and contralateral inputs. When this disparity is nullified by their best ITD, the neurons respond maximally. Thus NL neurons act as coincidence detectors. A biologically detailed model of NL with alligator parameters discriminated ITDs up to 1 kHz. The range of best ITDs represented in NL was much larger than in birds, however, and extended from 0 to 1000 μs contralateral, with a median ITD of 450 μs. Thus, crocodilians and birds employ similar algorithms for ITD detection, although crocodilians have larger heads.
PMCID: PMC3170862  PMID: 19553438
16.  Astrocyte-Secreted Factors Modulate the Developmental Distribution of Inhibitory Synapses in Nucleus Laminaris of the Avian Auditory Brainstem 
The Journal of comparative neurology  2012;520(6):1262-1277.
Nucleus laminaris (NL) neurons in the avian auditory brainstem are coincidence detectors necessary for the computation of interaural time differences used in sound localization. In addition to their excitatory inputs from nucleus magnocellularis, NL neurons receive inhibitory inputs from the superior olivary nucleus (SON) that greatly improve coincidence detection in mature animals. The mechanisms that establish mature distributions of inhibitory inputs to NL are not known. We used the vesicular GABA transporter (VGAT) as a marker for inhibitory presynaptic terminals to study the development of inhibitory inputs to NL between embryonic day 9 (E9) and E17. VGAT immunofluorescent puncta were first seen sparsely in NL at E9. The density of VGAT puncta increased with development, first within the ventral NL neuropil region and subsequently throughout both the ventral and dorsal dendritic neuropil, with significantly fewer terminals in the cell body region. A large increase in density occurred between E13–15 and E16–17, at a developmental stage when astrocytes that express glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP) become mature. We cultured E13 brainstem slices together with astrocyte-conditioned medium (ACM) obtained from E16 brainstems and found that ACM, but not control medium, increased the density of VGAT puncta. This increase was similar to that observed during normal development. Astrocyte-secreted factors interact with the terminal ends of SON axons to increase the number of GABAergic terminals. These data suggest that factors secreted from GFAP-positive astrocytes promote maturation of inhibitory pathways in the auditory brainstem.
PMCID: PMC3926803  PMID: 22020566
astrocytes; inhibitory synapses; auditory brainstem; nucleus laminaris; synaptogenesis; superior olivary nucleus
17.  Organization of the Auditory Brainstem in a Lizard, Gekko gecko. I. Auditory Nerve, Cochlear Nuclei, and Superior Olivary Nuclei 
The Journal of comparative neurology  2012;520(8):1784-1799.
We used tract tracing to reveal the connections of the auditory brainstem in the Tokay gecko (Gekko gecko). The auditory nerve has two divisions, a rostroventrally directed projection of mid- to high best-frequency fibers to the nucleus angularis (NA) and a more dorsal and caudal projection of low to middle best-frequency fibers that bifurcate to project to both the NA and the nucleus magnocellularis (NM). The projection to NM formed large somatic terminals and bouton terminals. NM projected bilaterally to the second-order nucleus laminaris (NL), such that the ipsilateral projection innervated the dorsal NL neuropil, whereas the contralateral projection crossed the midline and innervated the ventral dendrites of NL neurons. Neurons in NL were generally bitufted, with dorsoventrally oriented dendrites. NL projected to the contralateral torus semicircularis and to the contralateral ventral superior olive (SOv). NA projected to ipsilateral dorsal superior olive (SOd), sent a major projection to the contralateral SOv, and projected to torus semicircularis. The SOd projected to the contralateral SOv, which projected back to the ipsilateral NM, NL, and NA. These results suggest homologous patterns of auditory connections in lizards and archosaurs but also different processing of low- and high-frequency information in the brainstem.
PMCID: PMC4300985  PMID: 22120438
auditory nerve; ITD; cochlear nuclei; superior olive; reptile; lizard; tract tracing; Tokay gecko
18.  Adaptation of Firing Rate and Spike Timing Precision in the Avian Cochlear Nucleus 
Adaptation is commonly defined as a decrease in response to a constant stimulus. In the auditory system such adaptation is seen at multiple levels. However, the first-order central neurons of the interaural time difference (ITD) detection circuit encode information in the timing of spikes rather than the overall firing rate. We investigated adaptation during in vitro whole-cell recordings from chick nucleus magnocellularis (NM) neurons. Injection of noisy, depolarizing current caused an increase in firing rate and a decrease in spike time precision that developed over approximately 20 seconds. This adaptation depends on sustained depolarization, is independent of firing, and is eliminated by α-Dendrotoxin (0.1 μM) implicating slow inactivation of low-threshold voltage-activated K+ channels as its mechanism. This process may alter both firing rate and spike timing precision of phase-locked inputs to coincidence detector neurons in nucleus laminaris and thereby adjust the precision of sound localization.
PMCID: PMC2693385  PMID: 19005056
sound localization; nucleus magnocellularis; potassium channel; phase-locking; spike-timing precision; coincidence detection
19.  Modeling coincidence detection in nucleus laminaris 
Biological Cybernetics  2003;89(5):388-396.
A biologically detailed model of the binaural avian nucleus laminaris is constructed, as a two-dimensional array of multicompartment, conductance-based neurons, along tonotopic and interaural time delay (ITD) axes. The model is based primarily on data from chick nucleus laminaris. Typical chick-like parameters perform ITD discrimination up to 2 kHz, and enhancements for barn owl perform ITD discrimination up to 6 kHz. The dendritic length gradient of NL is explained concisely. The response to binaural out-of-phase input is suppressed well below the response to monaural input (without any spontaneous activity on the opposite side), implicating active potassium channels as crucial to good ITD discrimination.
PMCID: PMC3269635  PMID: 14669019
20.  Transgenic Quail as a Model for Research in the Avian Nervous System – A Comparative Study of the Auditory Brainstem 
Research performed on transgenic animals has led to numerous advances in biological research. However, using traditional retroviral methods to generate transgenic avian research models has proven problematic. As a result, experiments aimed at genetic manipulations on birds remained difficult for this popular research tool. Recently, lentiviral methods have enabled production of transgenic birds, including a transgenic Japanese quail (Coturnix coturnix japonica) line showing neuronal-specificity and stable expression of eGFP across generations (termed here as GFP quail). To test whether the GFP quail may serve as a viable alternative to the popular chicken model system, with the additional benefit of gene manipulation, we compared the development, organization, structure and function of a specific neuronal circuit in chicken (Gallus gallus domesticus) to that of the GFP quail. This study focuses on a well-defined avian brain region, the principal nuclei of the sound localization circuit in the auditory brainstem, nucleus magnocellularis (NM) and nucleus laminaris (NL). Our results demonstrate that structural and functional properties of NM and NL neurons in the GFP quail, as well as their dynamic properties in response to changes in the environment, are nearly identical to those in chickens. These similarities demonstrate that the GFP quail, as well as other transgenic quail lines, can serve as an attractive avian model system, with the advantage of being able to build on the wealth of information already available from the chicken.
PMCID: PMC3488602  PMID: 22806400
transgenic quail; auditory brainstem
21.  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.
PMCID: PMC3059808  PMID: 21368035
Nucleus angularis; STRF; spectrotemporal tuning; cochlear nuclei; barn owl; response reliability
22.  Resolution of interaural time differences in the avian sound localization circuit—a modeling study 
Interaural time differences (ITDs) are a main cue for sound localization and sound segregation. A dominant model to study ITD detection is the sound localization circuitry in the avian auditory brainstem. Neurons in nucleus laminaris (NL) receive auditory information from both ears via the avian cochlear nucleus magnocellularis (NM) and compare the relative timing of these inputs. Timing of these inputs is crucial, as ITDs in the microsecond range must be discriminated and encoded. We modeled ITD sensitivity of single NL neurons based on previously published data and determined the minimum resolvable ITD for neurons in NL. The minimum resolvable ITD is too large to allow for discrimination by single NL neurons of naturally occurring ITDs for very low frequencies. For high frequency NL neurons (>1 kHz) our calculated ITD resolutions fall well within the natural range of ITDs and approach values of below 10 μs. We show that different parts of the ITD tuning function offer different resolution in ITD coding, suggesting that information derived from both parts may be used for downstream processing. A place code may be used for sound location at frequencies above 500 Hz, but our data suggest the slope of the ITD tuning curve ought to be used for ITD discrimination by single NL neurons at the lowest frequencies. Our results provide an important measure of the necessary temporal window of binaural inputs for future studies on the mechanisms and development of neuronal computation of temporally precise information in this important system. In particular, our data establish the temporal precision needed for conduction time regulation along NM axons.
PMCID: PMC4143899  PMID: 25206329
sound localization; interaural time differences; avian brainstem; nucleus laminaris; ITD resolution
23.  Heterogeneous kinetics and pharmacology of synaptic inhibition in the chick auditory brainstem 
Identification of shared features between avian and mammalian auditory brainstem circuits has provided much insight into the mechanisms underlying early auditory processing. However, previous studies have highlighted an apparent difference in inhibitory systems; synaptic inhibition is thought to be slow and GABAergic in birds, but to have fast kinetics and be predominantly glycinergic in mammals. Using patch-clamp recordings in chick brainstem slices, we found this distinction is not exclusively true. Consistent with previous work, inhibitory postsynaptic currents (IPSCs) in nucleus magnocellularis (NM) were slow and mediated by GABAA receptors. However, IPSCs in nucleus laminaris (NL) and a subset of neurons in nucleus angularis (NA) had rapid time courses two to three-fold faster than those in NM. Further, we found IPSCs in NA were mediated by both glycine and GABAA receptors, demonstrating for the first time a role for fast glycinergic transmission in the avian auditory brainstem. Although NM, NL and NA have unique roles in auditory processing, the majority of inhibitory input to each nucleus arises from the same source, ipsilateral superior olivary nucleus (SON). Our results demonstrate remarkable diversity of inhibitory transmission among the avian brainstem nuclei and suggest differential glycine and GABAA receptor activity tailors inhibition to the specific functional roles of NM, NL, and NA despite common SON input. We additionally observed that glycinergic/GABAergic activity in NA was usually depolarizing and could elicit spiking activity in NA neurons. Because NA projects to SON, these excitatory effects may influence the recruitment of inhibitory activity in the brainstem nuclei.
PMCID: PMC2894706  PMID: 19641125
Auditory; GABA; Glycine; Patch Clamp; Inhibition; Synapse
24.  Ontogenetic scaling patterns and functional anatomy of the pelvic limb musculature in emus (Dromaius novaehollandiae) 
PeerJ  2014;2:e716.
Emus (Dromaius novaehollandiae) are exclusively terrestrial, bipedal and cursorial ratites with some similar biomechanical characteristics to humans. Their growth rates are impressive, as their body mass increases eighty-fold from hatching to adulthood whilst maintaining the same mode of locomotion throughout life. These ontogenetic characteristics stimulate biomechanical questions about the strategies that allow emus to cope with their rapid growth and locomotion, which can be partly addressed via scaling (allometric) analysis of morphology. In this study we have collected pelvic limb anatomical data (muscle architecture, tendon length, tendon mass and bone lengths) and calculated muscle physiological cross sectional area (PCSA) and average tendon cross sectional area from emus across three ontogenetic stages (n = 17, body masses from 3.6 to 42 kg). The data were analysed by reduced major axis regression to determine how these biomechanically relevant aspects of morphology scaled with body mass. Muscle mass and PCSA showed a marked trend towards positive allometry (26 and 27 out of 34 muscles respectively) and fascicle length showed a more mixed scaling pattern. The long tendons of the main digital flexors scaled with positive allometry for all characteristics whilst other tendons demonstrated a less clear scaling pattern. Finally, the two longer bones of the limb (tibiotarsus and tarsometatarsus) also exhibited positive allometry for length, and two others (femur and first phalanx of digit III) had trends towards isometry. These results indicate that emus experience a relative increase in their muscle force-generating capacities, as well as potentially increasing the force-sustaining capacities of their tendons, as they grow. Furthermore, we have clarified anatomical descriptions and provided illustrations of the pelvic limb muscle–tendon units in emus.
PMCID: PMC4277488  PMID: 25551028
Tendon; Ratite; Bone; Scaling; Palaeognathae; Emu; Biomechanics; Locomotion; Muscle
25.  Ancient DNA Suggests Dwarf and ‘Giant’ Emu Are Conspecific 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(4):e18728.
The King Island Emu (Dromaius ater) of Australia is one of several extinct emu taxa whose taxonomic relationship to the modern Emu (D. novaehollandiae) is unclear. King Island Emu were mainly distinguished by their much smaller size and a reported darker colour compared to modern Emu.
Methodology and Results
We investigated the evolutionary relationships between the King Island and modern Emu by the recovery of both nuclear and mitochondrial DNA sequences from sub-fossil remains. The complete mitochondrial control (1,094 bp) and cytochrome c oxidase subunit I (COI) region (1,544 bp), as well as a region of the melanocortin 1 receptor gene (57 bp) were sequenced using a multiplex PCR approach. The results show that haplotypes for King Island Emu fall within the diversity of modern Emu.
These data show the close relationship of these emu when compared to other congeneric bird species and indicate that the King Island and modern Emu share a recent common ancestor. King Island emu possibly underwent insular dwarfism as a result of phenotypic plasticity. The close relationship between the King Island and the modern Emu suggests it is most appropriate that the former should be considered a subspecies of the latter. Although both taxa show a close genetic relationship they differ drastically in size. This study also suggests that rates of morphological and neutral molecular evolution are decoupled.
PMCID: PMC3073985  PMID: 21494561

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