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1.  Rescue of Motor Coordination by Purkinje Cell-Targeted Restoration of Kv3.3 Channels in Kcnc3-Null Mice Requires Kcnc1 
The Journal of Neuroscience  2009;29(50):15735-15744.
The role of cerebellar Kv3.1 and Kv3.3 channels in motor coordination was examined with an emphasis on the deep cerebellar nuclei (DCN). Kv3 channel subunits encoded by Kcnc genes are distinguished by rapid activation and deactivation kinetics that support high-frequency, narrow action potential firing. Previously we reported that increased lateral deviation while ambulating and slips while traversing a narrow beam of ataxic Kcnc3-null mice were corrected by restoration of Kv3.3 channels specifically to Purkinje cells, whereas Kcnc3-mutant mice additionally lacking one Kcnc1 allele were partially rescued. Here, we report mice lacking all Kcnc1 and Kcnc3 alleles exhibit no such rescue. For Purkinje cell output to reach the rest of the brain it must be conveyed by neurons of the DCN or vestibular nuclei. As Kcnc1, but not Kcnc3, alleles are lost, mutant mice exhibit increasing gait ataxia accompanied by spike broadening and deceleration in DCN neurons, suggesting the facet of coordination rescued by Purkinje-cell-restricted Kv3.3 restoration in mice lacking just Kcnc3 is hypermetria, while gait ataxia emerges when additionally Kcnc1 alleles are lost. Thus, fast repolarization in Purkinje cells appears important for normal movement velocity, whereas DCN neurons are a prime candidate locus where fast repolarization is necessary for normal gait patterning.
PMCID: PMC3849660  PMID: 20016089
2.  Potassium Channel Gene Expression in the Rat Cochlear Nucleus 
Hearing research  2007;228(1-2):31-43.
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.
PMCID: PMC1995076  PMID: 17346910
cochlear nucleus; gene expression; SAGE; potassium channels; Kv3.2; Kir7.1
3.  Ablation of Kv3.1 and Kv3.3 Potassium Channels Disrupts Thalamocortical Oscillations In Vitro and In Vivo 
The Journal of Neuroscience  2008;28(21):5570-5581.
The genes Kcnc1 and Kcnc3 encode the subunits for the fast-activating/fast-deactivating, voltage-gated potassium channels Kv3.1 and Kv3.3, which are expressed in several brain regions known to be involved in the regulation of the sleep–wake cycle. When these genes are genetically eliminated, Kv3.1/Kv3.3-deficient mice display severe sleep loss as a result of unstable slow-wave sleep. Within the thalamocortical circuitry, Kv3.1 and Kv3.3 subunits are highly expressed in the thalamic reticular nucleus (TRN), which is thought to act as a pacemaker at sleep onset and to be involved in slow oscillatory activity (spindle waves) during slow-wave sleep. We showed that in cortical electroencephalographic recordings of freely moving Kv3.1/Kv3.3-deficient mice, spectral power is reduced up to 70% at frequencies <15 Hz. In addition, the number of sleep spindles in vivo as well as rhythmic rebound firing of TRN neurons in vitro is diminished in mutant mice. Kv3.1/Kv3.3-deficient TRN neurons studied in vitro show ∼60% increase in action potential duration and a reduction in high-frequency firing after depolarizing current injections and during rebound burst firing. The results support the hypothesis that altered electrophysiological properties of TRN neurons contribute to the reduced EEG power at slow frequencies in the thalamocortical network of Kv3-deficient mice.
PMCID: PMC3844809  PMID: 18495891
parvalbumin; fast-spiking interneurons; thalamic reticular nucleus; spindle waves; rhythmic rebound bursts; cortical activation
4.  Frequency of KCNC3 DNA Variants as Causes of Spinocerebellar Ataxia 13 (SCA13) 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(3):e17811.
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.
Principal Findings
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.
PMCID: PMC3066194  PMID: 21479265
5.  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
6.  Connections of the Auditory Brainstem in a Songbird, Taeniopygia guttata. I. Projections of Nucleus Angularis and Nucleus Laminaris to the Auditory Torus 
The Journal of comparative neurology  2010;518(11):10.1002/cne.22334.
Auditory information is important for social and reproductive behaviors in birds generally, but is crucial for oscine species (songbirds), in particular because in these species auditory feedback ensures the learning and accurate maintenance of song. While there is considerable information on the auditory projections through the forebrain of songbirds, there is no information available for projections through the brainstem. At the latter levels the prevalent model of auditory processing in birds derives from an auditory specialist, the barn owl, which uses time and intensity parameters to compute the location of sounds in space, but whether the auditory brainstem of songbirds is similarly functionally organized is unknown. To examine the songbird auditory brainstem we charted the projections of the cochlear nuclei angularis (NA) and magnocellularis (NM) and the third-order nucleus laminaris (NL) in zebra finches using standard tract-tracing techniques. As in other avian species, the projections of NM were found to be confined to NL, and NL and NA provided the ascending projections. Here we report on differential projections of NA and NL to the torus semicircularis, known in birds as nucleus mesencephalicus lateralis, pars dorsalis (MLd), and in mammals as the central nucleus of the inferior colliculus (ICc). Unlike the case in nonsongbirds, the projections of NA and NL to MLd in the zebra finch showed substantial overlap, in agreement with the projections of the cochlear nuclei to the ICc in mammals. This organization could suggest that the “what” of auditory stimuli is as important as “where.”
PMCID: PMC3862038  PMID: 20394061
cochlear nuclei; central nucleus of inferior colliculus; MLd; zebra finch; avian
7.  KCNC3: Phenotype, mutations, channel biophysics – a study of 260 familial ataxia patients 
Human mutation  2010;31(2):191-196.
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.
PMCID: PMC2814913  PMID: 19953606
Ion Channel gene defects; Spinocerebellar Ataxia; SCA13; KCNC3
8.  Functional effects of spinocerebellar ataxia type 13 mutations are conserved in zebrafish Kv3.3 channels 
BMC Neuroscience  2010;11:99.
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.
PMCID: PMC2933717  PMID: 20712895
9.  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
10.  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
11.  Regulation of glutamatergic and GABAergic neurotransmission in the chick nucleus laminaris: role of N-type calcium channels 
Neuroscience  2009;164(3):1009-1019.
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.
PMCID: PMC2784256  PMID: 19751802
voltage-gated calcium channel; excitatory postsynaptic current; inhibitory postsynaptic current; coincidence detection; sound localization
12.  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
13.  Interaural timing difference circuits in the auditory brainstem of the emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae) 
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.
PMCID: PMC2948976  PMID: 16435285
avian; nucleus laminaris; nucleus magnocellularis; dendrite; coincidence detection; sound localization
14.  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
15.  Microsecond Precision of Phase Delay in the Auditory System of the Barn Owl 
Journal of Neurophysiology  2005;94(2):1655-1658.
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.
PMCID: PMC3268176  PMID: 15843477
16.  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
17.  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
18.  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
19.  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.
PMCID: PMC3376706  PMID: 20826670
Superior olivary nucleus; Cochlear nucleus; Bicuculline; GABA; Auditory; In vivo
20.  Alteration of CaBP Expression Pattern in the Nucleus Magnocellularis following Unilateral Cochlear Ablation in Adult Zebra Finches 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(11):e79297.
Songbirds have the rare ability of auditory-vocal learning and maintenance. Up to now, the organization and function of the nucleus magnocellularis (NM), the first relay of the avian ascending auditory pathway is largely based on studies in non-vocal learning species, such as chickens and owls. To investigate whether NM exhibits different histochemical properties associated with auditory processing in songbirds, we examined the expression patterns of three calcium-binding proteins (CaBPs), including calretinin (CR), parvalbumin (PV) and calbindin-D28k (CB), and their relations to auditory inputs in NM in adult zebra finches. We found enriched and co-localized immunostaining of CR, PV and CB in the majority of NM neurons, without neuronal population preference. Furthermore, they were sensitive to adult deafferentation with differential plasticity patterns. After unilateral cochlear removal, CR staining in the ipsilateral NM decreased appreciably at 3 days after surgery, and continued to decline thereafter. PV staining showed down-regulation first at 3 days, but subsequently recovered slightly. CB staining did not significantly decrease until 7 days after surgery. Our findings suggest that the three CaBPs might play distinct roles in association with auditory processing in zebra finches. These results are in contrast to the findings in the NM of chickens where CR is the predominant CaBP and deafferentation had no apparent effect on its expression. Further extended studies in other avian species are required to establish whether the difference in CaBP patterns in NM is functionally related to the different auditory-vocal behaviors.
PMCID: PMC3828381  PMID: 24244471
21.  Gradients and Modulation of K+ Channels Optimize Temporal Accuracy in Networks of Auditory Neurons 
PLoS Computational Biology  2012;8(3):e1002424.
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.
Author Summary
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.
PMCID: PMC3305353  PMID: 22438799
22.  Three subdivisions of the auditory midbrain in chicks (Gallus gallus) identified by their afferent and commissural projections 
The Journal of comparative neurology  2010;518(8):1199-1219.
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.
PMCID: PMC2878180  PMID: 20148439
cochlear nuclei; MLd; inferior colliculus; parallel organization; infrasound
23.  Modeling the Nucleus Laminaris of the Barn Owl: Achieving 20 ps Resolution on a 85-MHz-Clocked Digital Device 
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.
PMCID: PMC3270320  PMID: 22347179
nucleus laminaris; barn owl; high resolution time measurement; localization; FPGA
24.  Uncx regulates proliferation of neural progenitor cells and neuronal survival in the olfactory epithelium 
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.
PMCID: PMC2962766  PMID: 20692344
Tle3; Umodl1; Kcnc4; neural development; neurogenesis; olfaction
25.  Fragile X Mental Retardation Protein is Required for Rapid Experience-Dependent Regulation of the Potassium Channel Kv3.1b 
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.
PMCID: PMC3485078  PMID: 20685971
Trapezoid Body; Potassium Channels; Topography; Auditory Nerve; Amplitude; Afferent

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