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1.  Development of N-Methyl-D-Aspartate Receptor Subunits in Avian Auditory Brainstem 
N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor subunit-specific probes were used to characterize developmental changes in the distribution of excitatory amino acid receptors in the chicken’s auditory brainstem nuclei. Although NR1 subunit expression does not change greatly during the development of the cochlear nuclei in the chicken (Tang and Carr [2004] Hear. Res 191:79 – 89), there are significant developmental changes in NR2 subunit expression. We used in situ hybridization against NR1, NR2A, NR2B, NR2C, and NR2D to compare NR1 and NR2 expression during development. All five NMDA subunits were expressed in the auditory brainstem before embryonic day (E) 10, when electrical activity and synaptic responses appear in the nucleus magnocellularis (NM) and the nucleus laminaris (NL). At this time, the dominant form of the receptor appeared to contain NR1 and NR2B. NR2A appeared to replace NR2B by E14, a time that coincides with synaptic refinement and evoked auditory responses. NR2C did not change greatly during auditory development, whereas NR2D increased from E10 and remained at fairly high levels into adulthood. Thus changes in NMDA NR2 receptor subunits may contribute to the development of auditory brainstem responses in the chick.
PMCID: PMC3268522  PMID: 17366608
cochlear nucleus; magnocellularis; laminaris; angularis; tonotopic gradient
2.  Localization of KCNC1 (Kv3.1) Potassium Channel Subunits in the Avian Auditory Nucleus Magnocellularis and Nucleus Laminaris during Development 
Journal of Neurobiology  2003;55(2):165-178.
The KCNC1 (previously Kv3.1) potassium channel, a delayed rectifier with a high threshold of activation, is highly expressed in the time coding nuclei of the adult chicken and barn owl auditory brainstem. The proposed role of KCNC1 currents in auditory neurons is to reduce the width of the action potential and enable neurons to transmit high frequency temporal information with little jitter. Because developmental changes in potassium currents are critical for the maturation of the shape of the action potential, we used immunohistochemical methods to examine the developmental expression of KCNC1 subunits in the avian auditory brainstem. The KCNC1 gene gives rise to two splice variants, a longer KCNC1b and a shorter KCNC1a that differ at the carboxy termini. Two antibodies were used: an antibody to the N-terminus that does not distinguish between KCNC1a and b isoforms, denoted as panKCNC1, and another antibody that specifically recognizes the C terminus of KCNC1b. A comparison of the staining patterns observed with the pan-KCNC1 and the KCNC1b specific antibodies suggests that KCNC1a and KCNC1b splice variants are differentially regulated during development. Although pan-KCNC1 immunoreactivity is observed from the earliest time examined in the chicken (E10), a subcellular redistribution of the immunoproduct was apparent over the course of development. KCNC1b specific staining has a late onset with immunostaining first appearing in the regions that map high frequencies in nucleus magnocellularis (NM) and nucleus laminaris (NL). The expression of KCNC1b protein begins around E14 in the chicken and after E21 in the barn owl, relatively late during ontogeny and at the time that synaptic connections mature morphologically and functionally.
PMCID: PMC3268178  PMID: 12672015
chicken; barn owl; ontogeny; time coding; outward current; high threshold
3.  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
4.  Mutation of Npr2 Leads to Blurred Tonotopic Organization of Central Auditory Circuits in Mice 
PLoS Genetics  2014;10(12):e1004823.
Tonotopy is a fundamental organizational feature of the auditory system. Sounds are encoded by the spatial and temporal patterns of electrical activity in spiral ganglion neurons (SGNs) and are transmitted via tonotopically ordered processes from the cochlea through the eighth nerve to the cochlear nuclei. Upon reaching the brainstem, SGN axons bifurcate in a stereotyped pattern, innervating target neurons in the anteroventral cochlear nucleus (aVCN) with one branch and in the posteroventral and dorsal cochlear nuclei (pVCN and DCN) with the other. Each branch is tonotopically organized, thereby distributing acoustic information systematically along multiple parallel pathways for processing in the brainstem. In mice with a mutation in the receptor guanylyl cyclase Npr2, this spatial organization is disrupted. Peripheral SGN processes appear normal, but central SGN processes fail to bifurcate and are disorganized as they exit the auditory nerve. Within the cochlear nuclei, the tonotopic organization of the SGN terminal arbors is blurred and the aVCN is underinnervated with a reduced convergence of SGN inputs onto target neurons. The tonotopy of circuitry within the cochlear nuclei is also degraded, as revealed by changes in the topographic mapping of tuberculoventral cell projections from DCN to VCN. Nonetheless, Npr2 mutant SGN axons are able to transmit acoustic information with normal sensitivity and timing, as revealed by auditory brainstem responses and electrophysiological recordings from VCN neurons. Although most features of signal transmission are normal, intermittent failures were observed in responses to trains of shocks, likely due to a failure in action potential conduction at branch points in Npr2 mutant afferent fibers. Our results show that Npr2 is necessary for the precise spatial organization typical of central auditory circuits, but that signals are still transmitted with normal timing, and that mutant mice can hear even with these deficits.
Author Summary
Millions of people suffer from debilitating hearing defects, ranging from a complete inability to detect sound to more subtle changes in how sounds are encoded by the nervous system. Many forms of deafness are due to mutations in genes that impair the development or function of hair cells, which are responsible for changing sound into electrical signals that can be processed by the brain. Both mice and humans carrying these mutations fail standard hearing tests. In contrast, very little is known about the genetic basis of central auditory processing disorders, which are poorly defined and difficult to diagnose, since these patients can still detect sounds. By finding genes that are required for the normal wiring of central auditory circuits in mice, we can investigate how changes at the circuit level affect circuit function and therefore improve our understanding of central auditory processing disorders. Here, we show that the natriuretic peptide receptor Npr2 is required to establish frequency maps in the mouse central auditory system. Surprisingly, despite a dramatic change in circuit organization, Npr2 mutant mice are still able to respond to sounds with normal sensitivity and timing, underscoring the need for better hearing diagnostic methods in mice as in humans.
PMCID: PMC4256264  PMID: 25473838
5.  Glycinergic transmission modulates GABAergic inhibition in the avian auditory pathway 
For all neurons, a proper balance of synaptic excitation and inhibition is crucial to effect computational precision. Achievement of this balance is remarkable when one considers factors that modulate synaptic strength operate on multiple overlapping time scales and affect both pre- and postsynaptic elements. Recent studies have shown that inhibitory transmitters, glycine and GABA, are co-released in auditory nuclei involved in the computation of interaural time disparities (ITDs), a cue used to process sound source location. The co-release expressed at these synapses is heavily activity dependent, and generally occurs when input rates are high. This circuitry, in both birds and mammals, relies on inhibitory input to maintain the temporal precision necessary for ITD encoding. Studies of co-release in other brain regions suggest that GABA and glycine receptors (GlyRs) interact via cross-suppressive modulation of receptor conductance. We performed in vitro whole-cell recordings in several nuclei of the chicken brainstem auditory circuit to assess whether this cross-suppressive phenomenon was evident in the avian brainstem. We evaluated the effect of pressure-puff applied glycine on synaptically evoked inhibitory currents in nucleus magnocellularis (NM) and the superior olivary nucleus (SON). Glycine pre-application reduced the amplitude of inhibitory postsynaptic currents (IPSCs) evoked during a 100 Hz train stimulus in both nuclei. This apparent glycinergic modulation was blocked in the presence of strychnine. Further experiments showed that this modulation did not depend on postsynaptic biochemical interactions such as phosphatase activity, or direct interactions between GABA and GlyR proteins. Rather, voltage clamp experiments in which we manipulated Cl− flux during agonist application suggest that activation of one receptor will modulate the conductance of the other via local changes in Cl− ion concentration within microdomains of the postsynaptic membrane.
PMCID: PMC3954080  PMID: 24672432
glycine; GABA; inhibition; cross-suppression; interaural time disparities
6.  Caldendrin–Jacob: A Protein Liaison That Couples NMDA Receptor Signalling to the Nucleus 
PLoS Biology  2008;6(2):e34.
NMDA (N-methyl-D-aspartate) receptors and calcium can exert multiple and very divergent effects within neuronal cells, thereby impacting opposing occurrences such as synaptic plasticity and neuronal degeneration. The neuronal Ca2+ sensor Caldendrin is a postsynaptic density component with high similarity to calmodulin. Jacob, a recently identified Caldendrin binding partner, is a novel protein abundantly expressed in limbic brain and cerebral cortex. Strictly depending upon activation of NMDA-type glutamate receptors, Jacob is recruited to neuronal nuclei, resulting in a rapid stripping of synaptic contacts and in a drastically altered morphology of the dendritic tree. Jacob's nuclear trafficking from distal dendrites crucially requires the classical Importin pathway. Caldendrin binds to Jacob's nuclear localization signal in a Ca2+-dependent manner, thereby controlling Jacob's extranuclear localization by competing with the binding of Importin-α to Jacob's nuclear localization signal. This competition requires sustained synapto-dendritic Ca2+ levels, which presumably cannot be achieved by activation of extrasynaptic NMDA receptors, but are confined to Ca2+ microdomains such as postsynaptic spines. Extrasynaptic NMDA receptors, as opposed to their synaptic counterparts, trigger the cAMP response element-binding protein (CREB) shut-off pathway, and cell death. We found that nuclear knockdown of Jacob prevents CREB shut-off after extrasynaptic NMDA receptor activation, whereas its nuclear overexpression induces CREB shut-off without NMDA receptor stimulation. Importantly, nuclear knockdown of Jacob attenuates NMDA-induced loss of synaptic contacts, and neuronal degeneration. This defines a novel mechanism of synapse-to-nucleus communication via a synaptic Ca2+-sensor protein, which links the activity of NMDA receptors to nuclear signalling events involved in modelling synapto-dendritic input and NMDA receptor–induced cellular degeneration.
Author Summary
Long-lasting changes in communication between nerve cells require the regulation of gene expression. The influx of calcium ions into the cell, particularly through membrane protein called NMDA receptors, plays a crucial role in this process by determining the type of gene expression induced. NMDA receptors can exert multiple and very divergent effects within neuronal cells by impacting opposing phenomena such as synaptic plasticity and neuronal degeneration. We identified a protein termed Jacob that appears to play a pivotal role in such processes by entering the nucleus in response to NMDA receptor activation and controlling gene expression that governs cell survival and the stability of synaptic cell contacts. Removal of Jacob from the nucleus protects neurons from NMDA receptor–induced cell death and increases phosphorylation of the transcription factor CREB, whereas the opposite occurs after targeting Jacob exclusively to the nucleus. The work defines a novel pathway of synapse-to-nucleus communication involved in modelling synapto-dendritic input and NMDA receptor–induced cellular degeneration.
A new signaling mechanism from NMDA receptors to the nucleus plays an important role in the phosphorylation of the transcription factor CREB and neuronal cell survival.
PMCID: PMC2253627  PMID: 18303947
7.  Age-related Hearing Loss: GABA, Nicotinic Acetylcholine and NMDA Receptor Expression Changes in Spiral Ganglion Neurons of the Mouse 
Neuroscience  2013;259:184-193.
Age-related hearing loss – presbycusis – is the number one communication disorder and most prevalent neurodegenerative condition of our aged population. Although speech understanding in background noise is quite difficult for those with presbycusis, there are currently no biomedical treatments to prevent, delay or reverse this condition. A better understanding of the cochlear mechanisms underlying presbycusis will help lead to future treatments. Objectives of the present study were to investigate gamma-amino butyric acid A (GABAA) receptor subunit α1, nicotinic acetylcholine (nACh) receptor subunit β2, and N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor subunit NR1 mRNA and protein expression changes in spiral ganglion neurons of the CBA/CaJ mouse cochlea, that occur in age-related hearing loss, utilizing quantitative immunohistochemistry and semi-quantitative RT-PCR techniques. We found that auditory brainstem response (ABR) thresholds shifted over 40 dB from 3–48 kHz in old mice compared to young adults. DPOAE thresholds also shifted over 40 dB from 6–49 kHz in old mice, and their amplitudes were significantly decreased or absent in the same frequency range. Spiral ganglion neuron (SGN) density decreased with age in basal, middle and apical turns, and SGN density of the basal turn declined the most. A positive correlation was observed between SGN density and ABR wave 1 amplitude. mRNA and protein expression of GABAAR α1 and AChR β2 decreased with age in SGNs in the old mouse cochlea. mRNA and protein expression of NMDAR NR1 increased with age in SGNs of the old mice. These findings demonstrate that there are functionally-relevant age-related changes of GABAAR, nAChR, NMDAR expression in CBA mouse SGNs reflecting their degeneration, which may be related to functional changes in cochlear synaptic transmission with age, suggesting biological mechanisms for peripheral age-related hearing loss.
PMCID: PMC3935603  PMID: 24316061
Aging; Hearing loss; Cochlea; Spiral Ganglion Neurons; Gene expression; Protein expression
8.  The Effects of NR2 Subunit-Dependent NMDA Receptor Kinetics on Synaptic Transmission and CaMKII Activation 
PLoS Computational Biology  2008;4(10):e1000208.
N-Methyl-d-aspartic acid (NMDA) receptors are widely expressed in the brain and are critical for many forms of synaptic plasticity. Subtypes of the NMDA receptor NR2 subunit are differentially expressed during development; in the forebrain, the NR2B receptor is dominant early in development, and later both NR2A and NR2B are expressed. In heterologous expression systems, NR2A-containing receptors open more reliably and show much faster opening and closing kinetics than do NR2B-containing receptors. However, conflicting data, showing similar open probabilities, exist for receptors expressed in neurons. Similarly, studies of synaptic plasticity have produced divergent results, with some showing that only NR2A-containing receptors can drive long-term potentiation and others showing that either subtype is capable of driving potentiation. In order to address these conflicting results as well as open questions about the number and location of functional receptors in the synapse, we constructed a Monte Carlo model of glutamate release, diffusion, and binding to NMDA receptors and of receptor opening and closing as well as a model of the activation of calcium-calmodulin kinase II, an enzyme critical for induction of synaptic plasticity, by NMDA receptor-mediated calcium influx. Our results suggest that the conflicting data concerning receptor open probabilities can be resolved, with NR2A- and NR2B-containing receptors having very different opening probabilities. They also support the conclusion that receptors containing either subtype can drive long-term potentiation. We also are able to estimate the number of functional receptors at a synapse from experimental data. Finally, in our models, the opening of NR2B-containing receptors is highly dependent on the location of the receptor relative to the site of glutamate release whereas the opening of NR2A-containing receptors is not. These results help to clarify the previous findings and suggest future experiments to address open questions concerning NMDA receptor function.
Author Summary
Information processing in the brain is carried out by networks of neurons connected by synapses. Synapses can change strength, allowing these networks to adapt and learn, in a process known as synaptic plasticity. At a synapse, an electrical signal in one neuron is converted into a chemical signal, carried by a neurotransmitter, which is in turn converted into electrical and chemical signals in another neuron by specialized proteins called receptors. One such protein, the N-methyl-d-aspartic acid (NMDA) receptor, is particularly important for plasticity, due to its ability to detect the voltage of the cell receiving the neurotransmitter signal and to the fact that it allows calcium, an important signaling molecule, to enter the cell. Here we use computational modeling to investigate the role of one part of the NMDA receptor: the NR2 subunit. The subunit has various forms, and which of these forms are present in the NMDA receptor can strongly affect the kinetics and other properties of the receptor. We show that, along with changing the kinetics of the receptor, changing the NR2 subunit affects the reliability of the receptor, its ability to respond to large stimuli, and its spatial response properties. These results have implications for synaptic transmission and plasticity.
PMCID: PMC2563690  PMID: 18974824
9.  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
10.  Local NMDA Receptor Blockade Attenuates Chronic Tinnitus and Associated Brain Activity in an Animal Model 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(10):e77674.
Chronic tinnitus has no broadly effective treatment. Identification of specific markers for tinnitus should facilitate the development of effective therapeutics. Recently it was shown that glutamatergic blockade in the cerebellar paraflocculus, using an antagonist cocktail was successful in reducing chronic tinnitus. The present experiment examined the effect of selective N-methyl d-aspartate (NMDA) receptor blockade on tinnitus and associated spontaneous brain activity in a rat model. The NMDA antagonist, D(−)-2-amino-5-phosphonopentanoic acid (D-AP5) (0.5 mM), was continuously infused for 2 weeks directly to the ipsilateral paraflocculus of rats with tinnitus induced months prior by unilateral noise exposure. Treated rats were compared to untreated normal controls without tinnitus, and to untreated positive controls with tinnitus. D-AP5 significantly decreased tinnitus within three days of beginning treatment, and continued to significantly reduce tinnitus throughout the course of treatment and for 23 days thereafter, at which time testing was halted. At the conclusion of psychophysical testing, neural activity was assessed using manganese enhanced magnetic resonance imaging (MEMRI). In agreement with previous research, untreated animals with chronic tinnitus showed significantly elevated bilateral activity in their paraflocculus and brainstem cochlear nuclei, but not in mid or forebrain structures. In contrast, D-AP5-treated-tinnitus animals showed significantly less bilateral parafloccular and dorsal cochlear nucleus activity, as well as significantly less contralateral ventral cochlear nucleus activity. It was concluded that NMDA-mediated glutamatergic transmission in the paraflocculus appears to be a necessary component of chronic noise-induced tinnitus in a rat model. Additionally, it was confirmed that in this model, elevated spontaneous activity in the cerebellar paraflocculus and auditory brainstem is associated with tinnitus.
PMCID: PMC3834860  PMID: 24282480
11.  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
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.  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
14.  Assembly of the Auditory Circuitry by a Hox Genetic Network in the Mouse Brainstem 
PLoS Genetics  2013;9(2):e1003249.
Rhombomeres (r) contribute to brainstem auditory nuclei during development. Hox genes are determinants of rhombomere-derived fate and neuronal connectivity. Little is known about the contribution of individual rhombomeres and their associated Hox codes to auditory sensorimotor circuitry. Here, we show that r4 contributes to functionally linked sensory and motor components, including the ventral nucleus of lateral lemniscus, posterior ventral cochlear nuclei (VCN), and motor olivocochlear neurons. Assembly of the r4-derived auditory components is involved in sound perception and depends on regulatory interactions between Hoxb1 and Hoxb2. Indeed, in Hoxb1 and Hoxb2 mutant mice the transmission of low-level auditory stimuli is lost, resulting in hearing impairments. On the other hand, Hoxa2 regulates the Rig1 axon guidance receptor and controls contralateral projections from the anterior VCN to the medial nucleus of the trapezoid body, a circuit involved in sound localization. Thus, individual rhombomeres and their associated Hox codes control the assembly of distinct functionally segregated sub-circuits in the developing auditory brainstem.
Author Summary
Sound perception and sound localization are controlled by two distinct circuits in the central nervous system. However, the cellular and molecular determinants underlying their development are poorly understood. Here, we show that a spatially restricted region of the brainstem, the rhombomere 4, and two members of the Hox gene family, Hoxb1 and Hoxb2, are directly implicated in the development of the circuit leading to sound perception and sound amplification. In the absence of Hoxb1 and Hoxb2 function, we found severe morphological defects in the hair cell population implicated in transducing the acoustic signal, leading ultimately to severe hearing impairments in adult mutant mice. In contrast, the expression in the cochlear nucleus of another Hox member, Hoxa2, regulates the guidance receptor Rig1 and contralateral connectivity in the sound localization circuit. Some of the auditory dysfunctions described in our mouse models resemble pathological hearing conditions in humans, in which patients have an elevated hearing threshold sensitivity, as recorded in audiograms. Thus, this study provides mechanistic insight into the genetic and functional regulation of Hox genes during development and assembly of the auditory system.
PMCID: PMC3567144  PMID: 23408898
15.  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
16.  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
17.  Cochlear nucleus neurons redistribute synaptic AMPA and glycine receptors in response to monaural conductive hearing loss 
Neuroscience  2009;163(4):1264-1276.
Neurons restore their function in response to external or internal perturbations and maintain neuronal or network stability through a homeostatic scaling mechanism. Homeostatic responses at synapses along the auditory system would be important for adaptation to normal and abnormal fluctuations in the sensory environment. We investigated at the electron microscopic level and after postembedding immunogold labeling whether projection neurons in the cochlear nucleus responded to modifications of auditory nerve activity. After unilaterally reducing the level of auditory inputs by ~ 20 dB by monaural earplugging, auditory nerve synapses on bushy cells somata and basal dendrites of fusiform cells of the ventral and dorsal cochlear nucleus, respectively, upregulated GluR3 AMPA receptor subunit, while inhibitory synapses decreased the expression of GlyRα1 subunit. These changes in expression levels were fully reversible once the earplug was removed, indicating that activity affects the trafficking of receptors at synapses. Excitatory synapses on apical dendrites of fusiform cells (parallel fibers) with different synaptic AMPA receptor subunit composition, were not affected by sound attenuation, as the expression levels of AMPA receptor subunits were the same as in normal hearing littermates. GlyRα1 subunit expression at inhibitory synapses on apical dendrites of fusiform cells was also found unaffected. Furthermore, fusiform and bushy cells of the contralateral side to the earplugging upregulated the GluR3 subunit at auditory nerve synapses. These results show that cochlear nucleus neurons innervated by the auditory nerve, are able to respond to small changes in sound levels by redistributing specific AMPA and glycine receptor subunits.
PMCID: PMC2760652  PMID: 19646510
earplugging; glutamate receptors; glycine α1 subunit; postembedding immunogold labeling; ultrastructure
18.  Math5 expression and function in the central auditory system 
The basic helix-loop-helix (bHLH) transcription factor Math5 (Atoh7) is required for retinal ganglion cell (RGC) and optic nerve development. Using Math5-lacZ knockout mice, we have identified an additional expression domain for Math5 outside the eye, in functionally connected structures of the central auditory system. In the adult hindbrain, the cytoplasmic Math5-lacZ reporter is expressed within the ventral cochlear nucleus (VCN), in a subpopulation of neurons that project to medial nucleus of the trapezoid body (MNTB), lateral superior olive (LSO), and lateral lemniscus (LL). These cells were identified as globular and small spherical bushy cells based on their morphology, abundance, distribution within the cochlear nucleus (CN), co-expression of Kv1.1, Kv3.1b and Kcnq4 potassium channels, and projection patterns within the auditory brainstem. Math5-lacZ is also expressed by cochlear root neurons in the auditory nerve. During embryonic development, Math5-lacZ was detected in precursor cells emerging from the caudal rhombic lip from embryonic day (E)12 onwards, consistent with the time course of CN neurogenesis. These cells co-express MafB, Math1 and Math5 and are post-mitotic. Math5 expression in the CN was verified by mRNA in situ hybridization, and the identity of positive neurons was confirmed morphologically using a Math5-Cre BAC transgene with an alkaline phosphatase reporter.
The hindbrains of Math5 mutants appear grossly normal, with the exception of the CN. Although overall CN dimensions are unchanged, the lacZ positive cells are significantly smaller in Math5 −/− mice compared to Math5 +/− mice, suggesting these neurons may function abnormally. The Auditory Brainstem Response (ABR) of Math5 mutants was evaluated in a BALB/cJ congenic background. ABR thresholds of Math5 −/− mice were similar to those of wild-type and heterozygous mice, but the interpeak latencies for Peaks II-IV were significantly altered. These temporal changes are consistent with a higher level auditory processing disorder involving the CN, potentially affecting the integration of binaural sensory information.
PMCID: PMC2266824  PMID: 17977745
Math5; cochlear nucleus; AVCN; PVCN; mouse; atonal; Math1; bHLH; globular bushy cells; spherical bushy cells; cochlear root neurons; auditory processing; ABR latency; binaural integration; interaural intensity difference; interaural time difference; phase locking; Calyx of Held; Kv1.1; Kv3.1; Kcnq4; mafB; Cre recombinase; fluorogold; tract-tracing; inferior colliculus; multipolar cells; rhombic lip
19.  LRP1 is critical for the surface distribution and internalization of the NR2B NMDA receptor subtype 
The N-methyl-D-aspartate receptors are key mediators of excitatory transmission and are implicated in many forms of synaptic plasticity. These receptors are heterotetrameres consisting of two obligatory NR1 and two regulatory subunits, usually NR2A or NR2B. The NR2B subunits are abundant in the early postnatal brain, while the NR2A/NR2B ratio increases during early postnatal development. This shift is driven by NMDA receptor activity. A functional interplay of the Low Density Lipoprotein Receptor Related Protein 1 (LRP1) NMDA receptor has already been reported. Such abilities as interaction of LRP1 with NMDA receptor subunits or its important role in tPa-mediated NMDA receptor signaling were already demonstrated. Moreover, mice harboring a conditional neuronal knock-out mutation of the entire Lrp1 gene display NMDA-associated behavioral changes. However, the exact role of LRP1 on NMDA receptor function remains still elusive.
To provide a mechanistic explanation for such effects we investigated whether an inactivating knock-in mutation into the NPxY2 motif of LRP1 might influence the cell surface expression of LRP1 and NMDA receptors in primary cortical neurons. Here we demonstrate that a knock-in into the NPxY2 motif of LRP1 results in an increased surface expression of LRP1 and NR2B NMDA receptor subunit due to reduced endocytosis rates of LRP1 and the NR2B subunit in primary neurons derived from LRP1ΔNPxY2 animals. Furthermore, we demonstrate an altered phosphorylation pattern of S1480 and Y1472 in the NR2B subunit at the surface of LRP1ΔNPxY2 neurons, while the respective kinases Fyn and casein kinase II are not differently regulated compared with wild type controls. Performing co-immunoprecipitation experiments we demonstrate that binding of LRP1 to NR2B might be linked by PSD95, is phosphorylation dependent and this regulation mechanism is impaired in LRP1ΔNPxY2 neurons. Finally, we demonstrate hyperactivity and changes in spatial and reversal learning in LRP1ΔNPxY2 mice, confirming the mechanistic interaction in a physiological readout.
In summary, our data demonstrate that LRP1 plays a critical role in the regulation of NR2B expression at the cell surface and may provide a mechanistic explanation for the behavioral abnormalities detected in neuronal LRP1 knock-out animals reported earlier.
PMCID: PMC3722104  PMID: 23866919
LRP1; NPxY2 motif; NMDA receptor; NR1; NR2B receptor subunit; PSD95; Cell surface expression
20.  Dynamin-dependent NMDAR endocytosis during LTD and its dependence on synaptic state 
BMC Neuroscience  2005;6:48.
The N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA)-type glutamate receptor expressed at excitatory glutamatergic synapses is required for learning and memory and is critical for normal brain function. At a cellular level, this receptor plays a pivotal role in triggering and controlling synaptic plasticity. While it has been long recognized that this receptor plays a regulatory role, it was considered by many to be itself immune to synaptic activity-induced plasticity. More recently, we and others have shown that NMDA receptor-mediated synaptic responses can be subject to activity-dependent depression.
Here we show that depression of synaptic transmission mediated by NMDA receptors displays a state-dependence in its plasticity; NMDA receptors are resistant to activity-induced changes at silent and recently-silent synapses. Once synapses transition to the active state however, NMDA receptors become fully 'plastic'. This state-dependence is identical to that shown by the α-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methylisoxazole-4-propionic acid (AMPA) receptor. Furthermore, the down-regulation of NMDAR-mediated responses during synaptic depression is prevented by disruption of dynamin-dependent endocytosis.
NMDA receptor-mediated synaptic responses are plastic in a state-dependent manner. Depending on the plasticity state in which a synapse currently resides, NMDA receptors will either be available or unavailable for down-regulation. The mechanism underlying the down-regulation of NMDA receptor-mediated synaptic responses is endocytosis of the NMDA receptor. Other potential mechanisms, such as receptor diffusion along the plane of the membrane, or changes in the activity of the channel are not supported. The mechanisms of AMPA receptor and NMDA receptor endocytosis appear to be tightly coupled, as both are either available or unavailable for endocytosis in the same synaptic states. Endocytosis of NMDA receptors would serve as a potent mechanism for metaplasticity. Such state-dependent regulation of NMDAR endocytosis will provide fundamental control over downstream NMDA receptor-dependent plasticity of neuronal circuitry.
PMCID: PMC1187896  PMID: 16042781
21.  Pre-target axon sorting in the avian auditory brainstem 
The Journal of comparative neurology  2013;521(10):2310-2320.
Topographic organization of neurons is a hallmark of brain structure. The establishment of the connections between topographically organized brain regions has attracted much experimental attention and it is widely accepted that molecular cues guide outgrowing axons to their targets in order to construct topographic maps. In a number of systems afferent axons are organized topographically along their trajectory as well and it has been suggested that this pre-target sorting contributes to map formation. Neurons in auditory regions of the brain are arranged according to their best frequency (BF), the sound frequency they respond to optimally. This BF changes predictably with position along the so-called tonotopic axis. In the avian auditory brainstem, the tonotopic organization of the second- and third-order auditory neurons in nucleus magnocellularis (NM) and nucleus laminaris (NL) has been well described. In this study we examine whether the decussating NM axons forming the crossed dorsal cochlear tract (XDCT) and innervating the contralateral NL are arranged in a systematic manner. We electroporated dye into cells in different frequency regions of NM to anterogradely label their axons in the XDCT. The placement of dye in NM was compared to the location of labeled axons in XDCT. Our results show that NM axons in XDCT are organized in a precise tonotopic manner along the rostrocaudal axis, spanning over the entire rostrocaudal extent of both the origin and target nuclei. We propose that in the avian auditory brainstem, this pre-target axon sorting contributes to tonotopic map formation in NL.
PMCID: PMC3619017  PMID: 23239056
axon topography; pre-target axon sorting; auditory system; tonotopic organization; sound localization
22.  Adult Plasticity in the Subcortical Auditory Pathway of the Maternal Mouse 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(7):e101630.
Subcortical auditory nuclei were traditionally viewed as non-plastic in adulthood so that acoustic information could be stably conveyed to higher auditory areas. Studies in a variety of species, including humans, now suggest that prolonged acoustic training can drive long-lasting brainstem plasticity. The neurobiological mechanisms for such changes are not well understood in natural behavioral contexts due to a relative dearth of in vivo animal models in which to study this. Here, we demonstrate in a mouse model that a natural life experience with increased demands on the auditory system – motherhood – is associated with improved temporal processing in the subcortical auditory pathway. We measured the auditory brainstem response to test whether mothers and pup-naïve virgin mice differed in temporal responses to both broadband and tone stimuli, including ultrasonic frequencies found in mouse pup vocalizations. Mothers had shorter latencies for early ABR peaks, indicating plasticity in the auditory nerve and the cochlear nucleus. Shorter interpeak latency between waves IV and V also suggest plasticity in the inferior colliculus. Hormone manipulations revealed that these cannot be explained solely by estrogen levels experienced during pregnancy and parturition in mothers. In contrast, we found that pup-care experience, independent of pregnancy and parturition, contributes to shortening auditory brainstem response latencies. These results suggest that acoustic experience in the maternal context imparts plasticity on early auditory processing that lasts beyond pup weaning. In addition to establishing an animal model for exploring adult auditory brainstem plasticity in a neuroethological context, our results have broader implications for models of perceptual, behavioral and neural changes that arise during maternity, where subcortical sensorineural plasticity has not previously been considered.
PMCID: PMC4081580  PMID: 24992362
23.  Egr2::Cre Mediated Conditional Ablation of Dicer Disrupts Histogenesis of Mammalian Central Auditory Nuclei 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(11):e49503.
Histogenesis of the auditory system requires extensive molecular orchestration. Recently, Dicer1, an essential gene for generation of microRNAs, and miR-96 were shown to be important for development of the peripheral auditory system. Here, we investigated their role for the formation of the auditory brainstem. Egr2::Cre-mediated early embryonic ablation of Dicer1 caused severe disruption of auditory brainstem structures. In adult animals, the volume of the cochlear nucleus complex (CNC) was reduced by 73.5%. This decrease is in part attributed to the lack of the microneuronal shell. In contrast, fusiform cells, which similar to the granular cells of the microneural shell are derived from Egr2 positive cells, were still present. The volume reduction of the CNC was already present at birth (67.2% decrease). The superior olivary complex was also drastically affected in these mice. Nissl staining as well as Vglut1 and Calbindin 1 immunolabeling revealed that principal SOC nuclei such as the medial nucleus of the trapezoid body and the lateral superior olive were absent. Only choline acetyltransferase positive neurons of the olivocochlear bundle were observed as a densely packed cell group in the ventrolateral area of the SOC. Mid-embryonic ablation of Dicer1 in the ventral cochlear nucleus by Atoh7::Cre-mediated recombination resulted in normal formation of the cochlear nucleus complex, indicating an early embryonic requirement of Dicer1. Quantitative RT-PCR analysis of miR-96 demonstrated low expression in the embryonic brainstem and up-regulation thereafter, suggesting that other microRNAs are required for proper histogenesis of the auditory brainstem. Together our data identify a critical role of Dicer activity during embryonic development of the auditory brainstem.
PMCID: PMC3495878  PMID: 23152916
24.  Alteration of glycine receptor immunoreactivity in the auditory brainstem of mice following three months of exposure to radiofrequency radiation at SAR 4.0 W/kg 
The increasing use of mobile communication has triggered an interest in its possible effects on the regulation of neurotransmitter signals. Due to the close proximity of mobile phones to hearing-related brain regions during usage, its use may lead to a decrease in the ability to segregate sounds, leading to serious auditory dysfunction caused by the prolonged exposure to radiofrequency (RF) radiation. The interplay among auditory processing, excitation and inhibitory molecule interactions plays a major role in auditory function. In particular, inhibitory molecules, such a glycine, are predominantly localized in the auditory brainstem. However, the effects of exposure to RF radiation on auditory function have not been reported to date. Thus, the aim of the present study was to investigate the effects of exposure to RF radiation on glycine receptor (GlyR) immunoreactivity (IR) in the auditory brainstem region at 835 MHz with a specific absorption rate of 4.0 W/kg for three months using free-floating immunohistochemistry. Compared with the sham control (SC) group, a significant loss of staining intensity of neuropils and cells in the different subdivisions of the auditory brainstem regions was observed in the mice exposed to RF radiation (E4 group). A decrease in the number of GlyR immunoreactive cells was also noted in the cochlear nuclear complex [anteroventral cochlear nucleus (AVCN), 31.09%; dorsal cochlear nucleus (DCN), 14.08%; posteroventral cochlear nucleus (PVCN), 32.79%] and the superior olivary complex (SOC) [lateral superior olivary nucleus (LSO), 36.85%; superior paraolivary nucleus (SPN), 24.33%, medial superior olivary nucleus (MSO), 23.23%; medial nucleus of the trapezoid body (MNTB), 10.15%] of the mice in the E4 group. Auditory brainstem response (ABR) analysis also revealed a significant threshold elevation of in the exposed (E4) group, which may be associated with auditory dysfunction. The present study suggests that the auditory brainstem region is susceptible to chronic exposure to RF radiation, which may affect the function of the central auditory system.
PMCID: PMC4094587  PMID: 24866721
radiofrequency; glycine receptor; superior olivary complex; cochlear nuclear complex; nucleus of lateral lemniscus; inferior colliculus
25.  Neuronal Plasticity in the Cingulate Cortex of Rats following Esophageal Acid Exposure in Early Life 
Gastroenterology  2011;141(2):544-552.
Background & Aims
The cingulate cortex (CC) has been reported to be involved in processing pain of esophageal origin. However, little is known about molecular changes and cortical activation that arise from early-life, esophageal acid reflux. Excitatory neurotransmission via activation of the N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor and its interaction with post-synaptic density protein-95 (PSD-95) at the synapse appears to mediate neuronal development and plasticity. We investigated the effect of early-life esophageal acid exposure on NMDA receptor subunits and PSD-95 expression in the developing CC.
We assessed NMDA receptor subunits and PSD-95 protein expression in rostral CC (rCC) tissues of rats exposed to esophageal acid or saline (control), either during post-natal days 7–14 (P7–P14) and/or acutely, at adult stage (P60), using immunoblot and immunoprecipitation analyses.
Compared with controls, acid exposure from P7 to P14 significantly increased expression of NR1, NR2A, and PSD-95, measured 6 weeks after exposure. However, acute exposure at P60 caused a transient increase in expression of NMDA receptor subunits. These molecular changes were more robust in animals exposed to acid neonatally and rechallenged, acutely, at P60. Esophageal acid exposure induced calcium calmodulin kinase II-mediated phosphorylation of the subunit NR2B at Ser1303.
Esophageal acid exposure during early stages of life has long-term effects, because of phosphorylation of the NMDA receptor and overexpression in the rCC. This molecular alteration in the rCC might mediate sensitization of patients with acid-induced esophageal disorders.
PMCID: PMC3152593  PMID: 21616075
brain; developmental neuroscience; pain processing; CamKII

Results 1-25 (1193417)