Potassium channels play a critical role in defining the electrophysiological properties accounting for the unique response patterns of auditory neurons. Serial analysis of gene expression (SAGE), microarrays, RT-PCR, and real-time RT-PCR were used to generate a broad profile of potassium channel expression in the rat cochlear nucleus. This study identified mRNAs for 51 different potassium channel subunits or channel interacting proteins. The relative expression levels of 27 of these transcripts among the AVCN, PVCN, and DCN were determined by real-time RT-PCR. Four potassium channel transcripts showed substantial levels of differential expression. Kcnc2 was expressed more than 15-fold higher in the DCN as compared to AVCN and PVCN. In contrast, Kcnj13 had an approximate 10-fold higher expression in AVCN and PVCN than in DCN. Two subunits that modify the activity of other channels were inversely expressed between ventral and dorsal divisions. Kcns1 was over 15-fold higher in DCN than AVCN or PVCN, while Kcns3 was about 25-fold higher in AVCN than in DCN. The expression patterns of potassium channels in the subdivisions of the cochlear nucleus provide a basis for understanding the electrophysiological mechanisms which sub-serve central auditory processing and provide targets for further investigations into neural plastic changes that occur with hearing loss.
cochlear nucleus; gene expression; SAGE; potassium channels; Kv3.2; Kir7.1
Gain-of function or dominant-negative mutations in the voltage-gated potassium channel KCNC3 (Kv3.3) were recently identified as a cause of autosomal dominant spinocerebellar ataxia. Our objective was to describe the frequency of mutations associated with KCNC3 in a large cohort of index patients with sporadic or familial ataxia presenting to three US ataxia clinics at academic medical centers.
DNA sequence analysis of the coding region of the KCNC3 gene was performed in 327 index cases with ataxia. Analysis of channel function was performed by expression of DNA variants in Xenopus oocytes.
Sequence analysis revealed two non-synonymous substitutions in exon 2 and five intronic changes, which were not predicted to alter splicing. We identified another pedigree with the p.Arg423His mutation in the highly conserved S4 domain of this channel. This family had an early-onset of disease and associated seizures in one individual. The second coding change, p.Gly263Asp, subtly altered biophysical properties of the channel, but was unlikely to be disease-associated as it occurred in an individual with an expansion of the CAG repeat in the CACNA1A calcium channel.
Mutations in KCNC3 are a rare cause of spinocerebellar ataxia with a frequency of less than 1%. The p.Arg423His mutation is recurrent in different populations and associated with early onset. In contrast to previous p.Arg423His mutation carriers, we now observed seizures and mild mental retardation in one individual. This study confirms the wide phenotypic spectrum in SCA13.
We recently identified KCNC3, encoding the Kv3.3 voltage-gated potassium channel, as the gene mutated in SCA13. One g.10684G>A (p.Arg420His) mutation caused late-onset ataxia resulting in a non-functional channel subunit with dominant-negative properties. A French early-onset pedigree with mild mental retardation segregated a g.10767T>C (p.Phe448Leu) mutation. This mutation changed the relative stability of the channel’s open conformation. Coding exons were amplified and sequenced in 260 autosomal-dominant ataxia index cases of European descent. Functional analyses were performed using expression in Xenopus oocytes. The previously identified p.Arg420His mutation occurred in three families with late-onset ataxia. A novel mutation g.10693G>A (p.Arg423His) was identified in two families with early-onset. In one pedigree, a novel g.10522G>A (p.Arg366His) sequence variant was seen in one index case but did not segregate with affected status in the respective family. In a heterologous expression system, the p.Arg423His mutation exhibited dominant negative properties. The p.Arg420His mutation, results in a non-functional channel subunit was recurrent and associated with late-onset progressive ataxia. In two families the p.Arg423His mutation was associated with early-onset slow progressive ataxia. Despite a phenotype reminiscent of the p.Phe448Leu mutation, segregating in a large early-onset French pedigree, the p.Arg423His mutation resulted in a nonfunctional subunit with a strong dominant-negative effect.
Ion Channel gene defects; Spinocerebellar Ataxia; SCA13; KCNC3
The zebrafish has been suggested as a model system for studying human diseases that affect nervous system function and motor output. However, few of the ion channels that control neuronal activity in zebrafish have been characterized. Here, we have identified zebrafish orthologs of voltage-dependent Kv3 (KCNC) K+ channels. Kv3 channels have specialized gating properties that facilitate high-frequency, repetitive firing in fast-spiking neurons. Mutations in human Kv3.3 cause spinocerebellar ataxia type 13 (SCA13), an autosomal dominant genetic disease that exists in distinct neurodevelopmental and neurodegenerative forms. To assess the potential usefulness of the zebrafish as a model system for SCA13, we have characterized the functional properties of zebrafish Kv3.3 channels with and without mutations analogous to those that cause SCA13.
The zebrafish genome (release Zv8) contains six Kv3 family members including two Kv3.1 genes (kcnc1a and kcnc1b), one Kv3.2 gene (kcnc2), two Kv3.3 genes (kcnc3a and kcnc3b), and one Kv3.4 gene (kcnc4). Both Kv3.3 genes are expressed during early development. Zebrafish Kv3.3 channels exhibit strong functional and structural homology with mammalian Kv3.3 channels. Zebrafish Kv3.3 activates over a depolarized voltage range and deactivates rapidly. An amino-terminal extension mediates fast, N-type inactivation. The kcnc3a gene is alternatively spliced, generating variant carboxyl-terminal sequences. The R335H mutation in the S4 transmembrane segment, analogous to the SCA13 mutation R420H, eliminates functional expression. When co-expressed with wild type, R335H subunits suppress Kv3.3 activity by a dominant negative mechanism. The F363L mutation in the S5 transmembrane segment, analogous to the SCA13 mutation F448L, alters channel gating. F363L shifts the voltage range for activation in the hyperpolarized direction and dramatically slows deactivation.
The functional properties of zebrafish Kv3.3 channels are consistent with a role in facilitating fast, repetitive firing of action potentials in neurons. The functional effects of SCA13 mutations are well conserved between human and zebrafish Kv3.3 channels. The high degree of homology between human and zebrafish Kv3.3 channels suggests that the zebrafish will be a useful model system for studying pathogenic mechanisms in SCA13.
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.
avian development; morphogenesis; auditory; laminaris; evolution; interaural time difference
Neurons in the chicken nucleus laminaris (NL), the third-order auditory nucleus involved in azimuth sound localization, receive bilaterally segregated (ipsilateral vs. contralateral) glutamatergic excitation from the cochlear nucleus magnocellularis and GABAergic inhibition from the ipsilateral superior olivary nucleus. Here, I investigate the voltage-gated calcium channels (VGCCs) that trigger the excitatory and the inhibitory transmission in the NL. Whole-cell recordings were performed in acute brainstem slices. The excitatory transmission was predominantly mediated by N-type VGCCs, as the specific N-type blocker ω-Conotoxin-GVIA (1-2.5 μM) inhibited excitatory postsynaptic currents (EPSCs) by ∼90%. Blockers for P/Q- and L-type VGCCs produced no inhibition, and blockade of R-type VGCCs produced a small inhibition. In individual cells, the effect of each VGCC blocker on the EPSC elicited by activation of the ipsilateral input was the same as that on the EPSC elicited by activation of the contralateral input, and the two EPSCs had similar kinetics, suggesting physiological symmetry between the two glutamatergic inputs to single NL neurons. The inhibitory transmission in NL neurons was almost exclusively mediated by N-type VGCCs, as ω-Conotoxin-GVIA (1 μM) produced a ∼90% reduction of inhibitory postsynaptic currents, whereas blockers for other VGCCs produced no inhibition. In conclusion, N-type VGCCs play a dominant role in triggering both the excitatory and the inhibitory transmission in the NL, and the presynaptic VGCCs that mediate the two bilaterally segregated glutamatergic inputs to individual NL neurons are identical. These features may play a role in optimizing coincidence detection in NL neurons.
voltage-gated calcium channel; excitatory postsynaptic current; inhibitory postsynaptic current; coincidence detection; sound localization
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.
Auditory; GABA; Glycine; Patch Clamp; Inhibition; Synapse
In the auditory system, precise encoding of temporal information is critical for sound localization, a task with direct behavioral relevance. Interaural timing differences are computed using axonal delay lines and cellular coincidence detectors in nucleus laminaris (NL). We present morphological and physiological data on the timing circuits in the emu, Dromaius novaehollandiae, and compare these results with those from the barn owl (Tyto alba) and the domestic chick (Gallus gallus). Emu NL was composed of a compact monolayer of bitufted neurons whose two thick primary dendrites were oriented dorsoventrally. They showed a gradient in dendritic length along the presumed tonotopic axis. The NL and nucleus magnocellularis (NM) neurons were strongly immunoreactive for parvalbumin, a calcium-binding protein. Antibodies against synaptic vesicle protein 2 and glutamic acid decarboxlyase revealed that excitatory synapses terminated heavily on the dendritic tufts, while inhibitory terminals were distributed more uniformly. Physiological recordings from brainstem slices demonstrated contralateral delay lines from NM to NL. During whole-cell patch-clamp recordings, NM and NL neurons fired single spikes and were doubly-rectifying. NL and NM neurons had input resistances of 30.0 ± 19.9 MΩ and 49.0 ± 25.6 MΩ, respectively, and membrane time constants of 12.8 ± 3.8 ms and 3.9 ± 0.2 ms. These results provide further support for the Jeffress model for sound localization in birds. The emu timing circuits showed the ancestral (plesiomorphic) pattern in their anatomy and physiology, while differences in dendritic structure compared to chick and owl may indicate specialization for encoding ITDs at low best frequencies.
avian; nucleus laminaris; nucleus magnocellularis; dendrite; coincidence detection; sound localization
The auditory system encodes time with sub-millisecond accuracy. To shed new light on the basic mechanism underlying this precise temporal neuronal coding, we analyzed the neurophonic potential, a characteristic multiunit response, in the barn owl’s nucleus laminaris. We report here that the relative time measure of phase delay is robust against changes in sound level, with a precision sharper than 20 µs. Absolute measures of delay, such as group delay or signal-front delay, had much greater temporal jitter, for example due to their strong dependence on sound level. Our findings support the hypothesis that phase delay underlies the sub-millisecond precision of the representation of interaural time difference needed for sound localization.
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.
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.
Nucleus angularis; STRF; spectrotemporal tuning; cochlear nuclei; barn owl; response reliability
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.
Sound; Localization; Auditory; Brainstem; Axon; Conduction; Velocity
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.
Superior olivary nucleus; Cochlear nucleus; Bicuculline; GABA; Auditory; In vivo
Accurate timing of action potentials is required for neurons in auditory brainstem nuclei to encode the frequency and phase of incoming sound stimuli. Many such neurons express “high threshold” Kv3-family channels that are required for firing at high rates (>∼200 Hz). Kv3 channels are expressed in gradients along the medial-lateral tonotopic axis of the nuclei. Numerical simulations of auditory brainstem neurons were used to calculate the input-output relations of ensembles of 1–50 neurons, stimulated at rates between 100–1500 Hz. Individual neurons with different levels of potassium currents differ in their ability to follow specific rates of stimulation but all perform poorly when the stimulus rate is greater than the maximal firing rate of the neurons. The temporal accuracy of the combined synaptic output of an ensemble is, however, enhanced by the presence of gradients in Kv3 channel levels over that measured when neurons express uniform levels of channels. Surprisingly, at high rates of stimulation, temporal accuracy is also enhanced by the occurrence of random spontaneous activity, such as is normally observed in the absence of sound stimulation. For any pattern of stimulation, however, greatest accuracy is observed when, in the presence of spontaneous activity, the levels of potassium conductance in all of the neurons is adjusted to that found in the subset of neurons that respond better than their neighbors. This optimization of response by adjusting the K+ conductance occurs for stimulus patterns containing either single and or multiple frequencies in the phase-locking range. The findings suggest that gradients of channel expression are required for normal auditory processing and that changes in levels of potassium currents across the nuclei, by mechanisms such as protein phosphorylation and rapid changes in channel synthesis, adapt the nuclei to the ongoing auditory environment.
In order to detect the nature and location of a sound stimulus, neurons in the central auditory system have to fire at very high rates with extreme temporal precision. Specifically, they have to be able to follow changes in an auditory stimulus at rates of up to 2000 Hz or more and to lock their action potentials to the stimuli with a precision of only a few microseconds. An individual neuron, however, cannot fire at such high rates, and the intrinsic electrical properties of neurons, such as the relative refractory period that follows each action potential, severely limits accuracy of timing at high rates. The intrinsic excitability of neurons is governed by the potassium channels that they express. It has been found in auditory brainstem nuclei that there exist gradients of these channels such that each neuron typically has a different number of channels than its neighbors. In this study, computational models based on measurements in auditory neurons demonstrate that, in the presence of random spontaneous activity such as is normally observed in auditory neurons, rapid adjustments of levels of potassium current within neurons along the gradient are required to allow the ensemble to transmit accurate timing information. The findings suggest that regulation of potassium channels within gradients is an integral component of auditory processing.
The auditory midbrain is a site of convergence of multiple auditory channels from the brainstem. In birds, two separate ascending channels have been identified, through which time and intensity information is sent to nucleus mesencephalicus lateralis, pars dorsalis (MLd), the homologue of the central nucleus of mammalian inferior colliculus. Using in vivo anterograde and retrograde tracing techniques, the current study provides two lines of anatomical evidence supporting the presence of a third ascending channel to the chick MLd. First, three non-overlapping zones of MLd receive inputs from three distinct cell groups in the caudodorsal brainstem. The projections from nucleus angularis (NA) and nucleus laminaris (NL) are predominately contralateral and may correspond to the time and intensity channels. A rostromedial portion of MLd receives bilateral projections mainly from the Regio Intermedius, an interposed region of cells lying at a caudal level between NL and NA, as well as scattered neurons embedded in 8th nerve tract, and probably a very ventral region of NA. Second, the bilateral zones of MLd on two sides of the brain are reciprocally connected and do not interact with other zones of MLd via commissural connections. In contrast, the NL-recipient zone projects contralaterally upon the NA-recipient zone. The structural separation of the third pathway from the NA and NL projections suggests a third information-processing channel, in parallel with the time and intensity channels. Neurons in the third channel appear to process very low frequency information including infrasound, probably utilizing different mechanisms than that underlying higher frequency processing.
cochlear nuclei; MLd; inferior colliculus; parallel organization; infrasound
Uncx (Phd1, Chx4) is a paired homeobox transcription factor gene. It and its probable functional partners, Tle co-repressors, were expressed by neurally-fated basal progenitor cells and olfactory sensory neurons of the olfactory epithelium. Uncx expression was rare in olfactory epithelia of Ascl1−/− mice, but common in Neurog1−/− mice. In Uncx−/− mice olfactory progenitor cell proliferation, progenitor cell number, olfactory sensory neuron survival, and Umodl1 and Kcnc4 mRNAs were reduced. Evidence of sensory neuron activity and functional connections to the olfactory bulb argue that decreased neuronal survival was not due to loss of trophic support or activity-dependent mechanisms. These data suggest that UNCX acts downstream of neural determination factors to broadly control transcriptional mechanisms used by neural progenitor cells to specify neural phenotypes.
Tle3; Umodl1; Kcnc4; neural development; neurogenesis; olfaction
The nucleus laminaris of the barn owl auditory system is quite impressive, since its underlying time estimation is much better than the processing speed of the involved neurons. Since precise localization is also very important in many technical applications, this paper explores to what extent the main principles of the nucleus laminaris can be implemented in digital hardware. The first prototypical implementation yields a time resolution of about 20 ps, even though the chosen standard, low-cost device is clocked at only 85 MHz, which leads to an internal duty cycle of approximately 12 ns. In addition, this paper also explores the utility of an advanced sampling scheme, known as unfolding-in-time. It turns out that with this sampling method, the prototype can easily process input signals of up to 300 MHz, which is almost four times higher than the sampling rate.
nucleus laminaris; barn owl; high resolution time measurement; localization; FPGA
Fragile X Mental Retardation Protein (FMRP) is an RNA-binding protein that regulates synaptic plasticity by repressing translation of specific mRNAs. We found that FMRP binds mRNA encoding the voltage-gated potassium channel Kv3.1b in brainstem synaptosomes. To explore the regulation of Kv3.1b by FMRP, we investigated Kv3.1b immunoreactivity and potassium currents in the auditory brainstem sound localization circuit of male mice. The unique features of this circuit allowed us to control neuronal activity in vivo by exposing animals to high-frequency amplitude modulated (AM) stimuli, which elicit predictable and stereotyped patterns of input to the anterior ventral cochlear nucleus (AVCN) and medial nucleus of the trapezoid body (MNTB). In wild type (WT) animals, Kv3.1b is expressed along a tonotopic gradient in the MNTB, with highest levels in neurons at the medial, high-frequency end. At baseline, Fmr1−/− mice, which lack FMRP, displayed dramatically flattened tonotopicity in Kv3.1b immunoreactivity and K+ currents relative to WT controls. Moreover, following 30 minutes of acoustic stimulation, levels of Kv3.1b immunoreactivity were significantly elevated in both the MNTB and AVCN of WT, but not Fmr1−/−, mice. These results suggest that FMRP is necessary for maintenance of the gradient in Kv3.1b protein levels across the tonotopic axis of the MNTB, and are consistent with a role for FMRP as a repressor of protein translation. Using numerical simulations, we demonstrate that Kv3.1b tonotopicity may be required for accurate encoding of stimulus features such as modulation rate, and that disruption of this gradient, as occurs in Fmr1−/− animals, degrades processing of this information.
Trapezoid Body; Potassium Channels; Topography; Auditory Nerve; Amplitude; Afferent
A recurring theme in theoretical work is that integration over populations of similarly tuned neurons can reduce neural noise. However, there are relatively few demonstrations of an explicit noise reduction mechanism in a neural network. Here we demonstrate that the brainstem of the barn owl includes a stage of processing apparently devoted to increasing the signal-to-noise ratio in the encoding of the interaural time difference (ITD), one of two primary binaural cues used to compute the position of a sound source in space. In the barn owl, the ITD is processed in a dedicated neural pathway that terminates at the core of the inferior colliculus (ICcc). The actual locus of the computation of the ITD is before ICcc in the nucleus laminaris (NL), and ICcc receives no inputs carrying information that did not originate in NL. Unlike in NL, the rate-ITD functions of ICcc neurons require as little as a single stimulus presentation per ITD to show coherent ITD tuning. ICcc neurons also displayed a greater dynamic range with a maximal difference in ITD response rates approximately double that seen in NL. These results indicate that ICcc neurons perform a computation functionally analogous to averaging across a population of similarly tuned NL neurons.
interaural time difference; sound localization; inferior colliculus; nucleus laminaris; barn owl; pooling
The Kv1.1 potassium channel subunit, encoded by the Kcna1 gene, is heavily expressed in the auditory brainstem and is thought to have a critical role in producing the high temporal precision of action potentials characteristic of the auditory system. Our intent was to determine whether temporal acuity was reduced in Kcna1 null-mutant (−/−) mice, compared to wild-type (+/+) and heterozygotic mice (+/−), as measured by the encoding of gaps in the inferior colliculus by near-field auditory evoked potentials (NFAEP) or behavioral gap detection (BGD) using a prepulse inhibition paradigm. NFAEPs were collected at 40, 60 and 80 dB SPL with gap durations from 0.5 to 64 ms. BGD data were collected using silent gaps in 70 dB noise from 1 to 15 ms in duration. There were no systematic effects of Kcna1 genotype on NFAEP recovery functions, NFAEP latencies, or the time constant for BGD, but there was a small reduction in asymptotic prepulse inhibition for the longest gap stimuli in −/− mice. Gap thresholds were approximately 1–2 ms across genotypes, stimulus conditions, and paradigms. These data suggest that the neural pathways encoding behaviorally relevant, rapid auditory temporal fluctuations are not limited by the absence of Kv1.1 expression.
voltage-gated potassium channel; Kv1.1; inferior colliculus; prepulse inhibition
Increases in the size of the neuronal structures that mediate specific behaviors are believed to be related to enhanced computational performance. It is not clear, however, what developmental and evolutionary mechanisms mediate these changes, nor whether an increase in the size of a given neuronal population is a general mechanism to achieve enhanced computational ability. We addressed the issue of size by analyzing the variation in the relative number of cells of auditory structures in auditory specialists and generalists. We show that bird species with different auditory specializations exhibit variation in the relative size of their hindbrain auditory nuclei. In the barn owl, an auditory specialist, the hind-brain auditory nuclei involved in the computation of sound location show hyperplasia. This hyperplasia was also found in songbirds, but not in non-auditory specialists. The hyperplasia of auditory nuclei was also not seen in birds with large body weight suggesting that the total number of cells is selected for in auditory specialists. In barn owls, differences observed in the relative size of the auditory nuclei might be attributed to modifications in neurogenesis and cell death. Thus, hyperplasia of circuits used for auditory computation accompanies auditory specialization in different orders of birds.
Evolution; Auditory; Neuronal computation; Birds; Allometry
Afferent input regulates neuronal dendritic patterning locally and globally through distinct mechanisms. To begin to understand these mechanisms, we differentially manipulate afferent input in vivo and assess effects on dendritic patterning of individual neurons in chicken nucleus laminaris (NL). Dendrites of NL neurons segregate into dorsal and ventral domains, receiving excitatory input from the ipsilateral and contralateral ears, respectively, via nucleus magnocellularis (NM). Blocking action potentials from one ear, by either cochlea removal or temporary treatment with tetrodotoxin (TTX), leads to rapid and significant retraction of affected NL dendrites (dorsal ipsilaterally and ventral contralaterally) within 8h as compared to the other dendrites of the same neurons. The degree of retraction is comparable to that induced by direct deafferentation resulting from transection of NM axons. Importantly, when inner ear activity is allowed to recover from TTX treatments, retracted NL dendrites regrow to their normal length within 48h. The retraction and growth involve elimination of terminal branches and addition of new branches. Examination of changes in NL dendrites at 96h following unilateral cochlear removal, a manipulation that induces cell loss in NM and persistent blockage of afferent excitatory action potentials, reveals a significant correlation between cell death in the ipsilateral NM and the degree of dendritic retraction in NL. These results demonstrate that presynaptic action potentials rapidly and reversibly regulate dendritic patterning of postsynaptic neurons in a compartment specific manner, while long-term dendritic maintenance may be regulated in a way that is correlated with the presence of silent presynaptic appositions.
For accurate processing of auditory information, neurons in auditory brainstem nuclei have to fire at high rates with high temporal accuracy. These two requirements can only be fulfilled when the intrinsic electrical properties of these neurons are matched to the pattern of incoming synaptic stimulation. This review article focuses on three families of potassium channels that are critical to shaping the firing pattern and accuracy of neurons. Changes in the auditory environment can trigger very rapid changes in the phosphorylation state of potassium channels in auditory brainstem nuclei. Longer lasting changes in the auditory environment produce changes in the rates of translation and transcription of genes encoding these channels. A key protein that plays a role in setting the overall sensitivity of the auditory system to sound stimuli is FMRP (Fragile X Mental Retardation Protein), which binds channels directly and also regulates the translation of mRNAs for the channels.
MNTB; Kv3.1; Kv1; KNa; Slack; FMRP
Animals, including humans, use interaural time differences (ITDs) that arise from different sound path lengths to the two ears as a cue of horizontal sound source location. The nature of the neural code for ITD is still controversial. Current models differentiate between two population codes: either a map-like rate-place code of ITD along an array of neurons, consistent with a large body of data in the barn owl, or a population rate code, consistent with data from small mammals. Recently, it was proposed that these different codes reflect optimal coding strategies that depend on head size and sound frequency. The chicken makes an excellent test case of this proposal because its physical pre-requisites are similar to small mammals, yet it shares a more recent common ancestry with the owl. We show here that, like in the barn owl, the brainstem nucleus laminaris in mature chickens displayed the major features of a place code of ITD. ITD was topographically represented in the maximal responses of neurons along each isofrequency band, covering approximately the contralateral acoustic hemisphere. Furthermore, the represented ITD range appeared to change with frequency, consistent with a pressure gradient receiver mechanism in the avian middle ear. At very low frequencies, below400 Hz, maximal neural responses were symmetrically distributed around zero ITD and it remained unclear whether there was a topographic representation. These findings do not agree with the above predictions for optimal coding and thus revive the discussion as to what determines the neural coding strategies for ITDs.
Auditory; Hearing; Sound localization; Sensory
Tonic inhibition mediated by extrasynaptic γ-aminobutyric acid A receptors (GABAARs) has emerged as a novel form of neural inhibition in the CNS. However, little is known about its presence and function in the auditory system. Using whole-cell recordings in brain slices, we identified a tonic current mediated by GABAARs containing the δ subunit in middle/high-characteristic-frequency neurons of the chicken nucleus laminaris, the first interaural time difference encoder that computes information for sound localization. This tonic conductance was activated by ambient concentrations of GABA released from synaptic vesicles. Furthermore, pharmacological manipulations of the conductance demonstrated its essential role in coincidence detection. Remarkably, this depolarizing tonic conductance was strongly inhibitory primarily owing to its shunting effect. These results demonstrate a novel role for tonic inhibition in central auditory information processing.
GABA; inhibition; neuromodulation; auditory; temporal coding; sound localization