GABAergic modulation of activity in avian cochlear nucleus neurons has been studied extensively in vitro. However, how this modulation actually influences processing in vivo is not known. We investigated responses of chicken nucleus magnocellularis (NM) neurons to sound while pharmacologically manipulating the inhibitory input from the superior olivary nucleus (SON). SON receives excitatory inputs from nucleus angularis (NA) and nucleus laminaris (NL), and provides GABAergic inputs to NM, NA, NL, and putatively to the contralateral SON. Results from single unit extracellular recordings from 2–4 wks posthatch chickens show that firing rates of auditory nerve fibers (ANFs) increased monotonically with sound intensity, while that of NM neurons saturated or even decreased at moderate or loud sound levels. Blocking GABAergic input with local application of TTX into the SON induced an increase in firing rate of ipsilateral NM while that of the contralateral NM decreased at high sound levels. Moreover, local application of bicuculline to NM also increased the firing rate of NM neurons at high sound levels, reduced phase-locking, and broadened the frequency tuning properties of NM neurons. Following application of DNQX, clear evidence of inhibition was observed. Furthermore, the inhibition was tuned to a broader frequency range than the excitatory response areas. We conclude that GABAergic inhibition from SON has at least three physiological influences on the activity of NM neurons: it regulates the firing activity of NM units in a sound-level dependent manner; it improves phase selectivity; and it sharpens frequency tuning of NM neuronal responses.
Superior olivary nucleus; Cochlear nucleus; Bicuculline; GABA; Auditory; In vivo
In the auditory system, precise encoding of temporal information is critical for sound localization, a task with direct behavioral relevance. Interaural timing differences are computed using axonal delay lines and cellular coincidence detectors in nucleus laminaris (NL). We present morphological and physiological data on the timing circuits in the emu, Dromaius novaehollandiae, and compare these results with those from the barn owl (Tyto alba) and the domestic chick (Gallus gallus). Emu NL was composed of a compact monolayer of bitufted neurons whose two thick primary dendrites were oriented dorsoventrally. They showed a gradient in dendritic length along the presumed tonotopic axis. The NL and nucleus magnocellularis (NM) neurons were strongly immunoreactive for parvalbumin, a calcium-binding protein. Antibodies against synaptic vesicle protein 2 and glutamic acid decarboxlyase revealed that excitatory synapses terminated heavily on the dendritic tufts, while inhibitory terminals were distributed more uniformly. Physiological recordings from brainstem slices demonstrated contralateral delay lines from NM to NL. During whole-cell patch-clamp recordings, NM and NL neurons fired single spikes and were doubly-rectifying. NL and NM neurons had input resistances of 30.0 ± 19.9 MΩ and 49.0 ± 25.6 MΩ, respectively, and membrane time constants of 12.8 ± 3.8 ms and 3.9 ± 0.2 ms. These results provide further support for the Jeffress model for sound localization in birds. The emu timing circuits showed the ancestral (plesiomorphic) pattern in their anatomy and physiology, while differences in dendritic structure compared to chick and owl may indicate specialization for encoding ITDs at low best frequencies.
avian; nucleus laminaris; nucleus magnocellularis; dendrite; coincidence detection; sound localization
The auditory systems of birds and mammals use timing information from each ear to detect interaural time difference (ITD). To determine whether the Jeffress-type algorithms that underlie sensitivity to ITD in birds are an evolutionarily stable strategy, we recorded from the auditory nuclei of crocodilians, who are the sister group to the birds. In alligators, precisely timed spikes in the first-order nucleus magnocellularis (NM) encode the timing of sounds, and NM neurons project to neurons in the nucleus laminaris (NL) that detect interaural time differences. In vivo recordings from NL neurons show that the arrival time of phase-locked spikes differs between the ipsilateral and contralateral inputs. When this disparity is nullified by their best ITD, the neurons respond maximally. Thus NL neurons act as coincidence detectors. A biologically detailed model of NL with alligator parameters discriminated ITDs up to 1 kHz. The range of best ITDs represented in NL was much larger than in birds, however, and extended from 0 to 1000 μs contralateral, with a median ITD of 450 μs. Thus, crocodilians and birds employ similar algorithms for ITD detection, although crocodilians have larger heads.
Understanding binaural perception requires detailed analyses of the neural circuitry responsible for the computation of interaural time differences (ITDs). In the avian brainstem, this circuit consists of internal axonal delay lines innervating an array of coincidence detector neurons that encode external ITDs. Nucleus magnocellularis (NM) neurons project to the dorsal dendritic field of the ipsilateral nucleus laminaris (NL) and to the ventral field of the contralateral NL. Contralateral-projecting axons form a delay line system along a band of NL neurons. Binaural acoustic signals in the form of phase-locked action potentials from NM cells arrive at NL and establish a topographic map of sound source location along the azimuth. These pathways are assumed to represent a circuit similar to the Jeffress model of sound localization, establishing a place code along an isofrequency contour of NL. Three-dimensional measurements of axon lengths reveal major discrepancies with the current model; the temporal offset based on conduction length alone makes encoding of physiological ITDs impossible. However, axon diameter and distances between Nodes of Ranvier also influence signal propagation times along an axon. Our measurements of these parameters reveal that diameter and internode distance can compensate for the temporal offset inferred from axon lengths alone. Together with other recent studies these unexpected results should inspire new thinking on the cellular biology, evolution and plasticity of the circuitry underlying low frequency sound localization in both birds and mammals.
Sound; Localization; Auditory; Brainstem; Axon; Conduction; Velocity
Barn owls are capable of great accuracy in detecting the interaural time differences (ITDs) that underlie azimuthal sound localization. They compute ITDs in a circuit in nucleus laminaris (NL) that is reorganized with respect to birds like the chicken. The events that lead to the reorganization of the barn owl NL take place during embryonic development, shortly after the cochlear and laminaris nuclei have differentiated morphologically. At first the developing owl’s auditory brainstem exhibits morphology reminiscent of that of the developing chicken. Later, the two systems diverge, and the owl’s brainstem auditory nuclei undergo a secondary morphogenetic phase during which NL dendrites retract, the laminar organization is lost, and synapses are redistributed. These events lead to the restructuring of the ITD coding circuit and the consequent reorganization of the hindbrain map of ITDs and azimuthal space.
avian development; morphogenesis; auditory; laminaris; evolution; interaural time difference
Neurons in nucleus laminaris (NL) receive binaural, tonotopically matched input from nucleus magnocelluaris (NM) onto bitufted dendrites that display a gradient of dendritic arbor size. These features improve computation of interaural time differences, which are used to determine the locations of sound sources. The dendritic gradient emerges following a period of significant reorganization at embryonic day 15 (E15), which coincides with the emergence of astrocytes that express glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP) in the auditory brainstem. The major changes include a loss of total dendritic length, a systematic loss of primary dendrites along the tonotopic axis, and lengthening of primary dendrites on caudolateral NL neurons. Here we have tested whether astrocyte-derived molecules contribute to these changes in dendritic morphology. We used an organotypic brainstem slice preparation to perform repeated imaging of individual dye-filled NL neurons to determine the effects of astrocyte-conditioned medium (ACM) on dendritic morphology. We found that treatment with ACM induced a decrease in the number of primary dendrites in a tonotopically graded manner similar to that observed during normal development. Our data introduce a new interaction between astrocytes and neurons in the auditory brainstem and suggest that these astrocytes influence multiple aspects of auditory brainstem maturation.
In order to localize sounds in the environment, the auditory system detects and encodes differences in signals between each ear. The exquisite sensitivity of auditory brain stem neurons to the differences in rise time of the excitation signals from the two ears allows for neuronal encoding of microsecond interaural time differences.
Low-frequency sound localization depends on the neural computation of interaural time differences (ITD) and relies on neurons in the auditory brain stem that integrate synaptic inputs delivered by the ipsi- and contralateral auditory pathways that start at the two ears. The first auditory neurons that respond selectively to ITD are found in the medial superior olivary nucleus (MSO). We identified a new mechanism for ITD coding using a brain slice preparation that preserves the binaural inputs to the MSO. There was an internal latency difference for the two excitatory pathways that would, if left uncompensated, position the ITD response function too far outside the physiological range to be useful for estimating ITD. We demonstrate, and support using a biophysically based computational model, that a bilateral asymmetry in excitatory post-synaptic potential (EPSP) slopes provides a robust compensatory delay mechanism due to differential activation of low threshold potassium conductance on these inputs and permits MSO neurons to encode physiological ITDs. We suggest, more generally, that the dependence of spike probability on rate of depolarization, as in these auditory neurons, provides a mechanism for temporal order discrimination between EPSPs.
Animals can locate the source of a sound by detecting microsecond differences in the arrival time of sound at the two ears. Neurons encoding these interaural time differences (ITDs) receive an excitatory synaptic input from each ear. They can perform a microsecond computation with excitatory synapses that have millisecond time scale because they are extremely sensitive to the input's “rise time,” the time taken to reach the peak of the synaptic input. Current theories assume that the biophysical properties of the two inputs are identical. We challenge this assumption by showing that the rise times of excitatory synaptic potentials driven by the ipsilateral ear are faster than those driven by the contralateral ear. Further, we present a computational model demonstrating that this disparity in rise times, together with the neurons' sensitivity to excitation's rise time, can endow ITD-encoding with microsecond resolution in the biologically relevant range. Our analysis also resolves a timing mismatch. The difference between contralateral and ipsilateral latencies is substantially larger than the relevant ITD range. We show how the rise time disparity compensates for this mismatch. Generalizing, we suggest that phasic-firing neurons—those that respond to rapidly, but not to slowly, changing stimuli—are selective to the temporal ordering of brief inputs. In a coincidence-detection computation the neuron will respond more robustly when a faster input leads a slower one, even if the inputs are brief and have similar amplitudes.
Competition between presynaptic inputs has been suggested to shape dendritic form. This hypothesis can be directly tested on bitufted, auditory neurons in chicken nucleus laminaris (NL). Each NL neuron contains two relatively symmetrical dendritic arbors; the dorsal dendrite receives excitatory glutamatergic input from the ipsilateral ear and the ventral dendrites receive corresponding input from the contralateral ear. To assess the effect of relative synaptic strength on NL dendrites, we used single cell electroporation, electrophysiology and live, two-photon laser scanning microscopy to manipulate both the amount and the balance of synaptic input to the two matching sets of dendrites. With simultaneous activation, both sets of dendrites changed together, either growing or retracting over the imaging period. In contrast, stimulation of only one set of dendrites (either dorsal or ventral) resulted in the unstimulated dendrites losing total dendritic branch length, while the stimulated dendrites exhibited a tendency to grow. In this system, balanced input leads to balanced changes in the two sets of dendrites while imbalanced input results in differential changes. Time-lapse imaging revealed that NL dendrites respond to differential stimulation by first decreasing the size of their unstimulated dendrites, and then increasing the size of their stimulated dendrites. This result suggests that the relative activity of presynaptic neurons dynamically controls dendritic structure in NL, and that dendritic real estate can rapidly be shifted from inactive inputs to active inputs.
dendrites; activity; competition; auditory; time-lapse imaging
Neurons in the chicken nucleus laminaris (NL), the third-order auditory nucleus involved in azimuth sound localization, receive bilaterally segregated (ipsilateral vs. contralateral) glutamatergic excitation from the cochlear nucleus magnocellularis and GABAergic inhibition from the ipsilateral superior olivary nucleus. Here, I investigate the voltage-gated calcium channels (VGCCs) that trigger the excitatory and the inhibitory transmission in the NL. Whole-cell recordings were performed in acute brainstem slices. The excitatory transmission was predominantly mediated by N-type VGCCs, as the specific N-type blocker ω-Conotoxin-GVIA (1-2.5 μM) inhibited excitatory postsynaptic currents (EPSCs) by ∼90%. Blockers for P/Q- and L-type VGCCs produced no inhibition, and blockade of R-type VGCCs produced a small inhibition. In individual cells, the effect of each VGCC blocker on the EPSC elicited by activation of the ipsilateral input was the same as that on the EPSC elicited by activation of the contralateral input, and the two EPSCs had similar kinetics, suggesting physiological symmetry between the two glutamatergic inputs to single NL neurons. The inhibitory transmission in NL neurons was almost exclusively mediated by N-type VGCCs, as ω-Conotoxin-GVIA (1 μM) produced a ∼90% reduction of inhibitory postsynaptic currents, whereas blockers for other VGCCs produced no inhibition. In conclusion, N-type VGCCs play a dominant role in triggering both the excitatory and the inhibitory transmission in the NL, and the presynaptic VGCCs that mediate the two bilaterally segregated glutamatergic inputs to individual NL neurons are identical. These features may play a role in optimizing coincidence detection in NL neurons.
voltage-gated calcium channel; excitatory postsynaptic current; inhibitory postsynaptic current; coincidence detection; sound localization
The brain stem auditory system of the chick has proven to be a useful model system for analyzing how the brain encodes temporal information. This paper reviews some of the work on a circuit in the brain stem that compares the timing of information coming from the two ears to determine the location of a sound source. The contralateral projection from the cochlear nucleus, nucleus magnocellularis (NM), to nucleus laminaris (NL) forms a delay line as it proceeds from medial to lateral across NL. NL neurons function like coincidence detectors in that they respond maximally when input from the two ears arrive simultaneously. This arrangement may allow NL to code sound space by the relative level of activity across the nucleus. The head anatomy of the chick allows for enhancement of the functional interaural time differences. Comparing the functional interaural time differences to the length of the neural delay line suggests that each NL can encode approximately one hemifield of sound space. Finally it is suggested that inhibitory input into the NM–NL circuit may provide a means to dynamically adjust the gain of the circuit to allow accurate coding of sound location despite changes in overall sound intensity.
Auditory system; Sound localization; Nucleus magnocellularis; Nucleus laminaris; Coincidence detection; Interaural canal; GABA
A biologically detailed model of the binaural avian nucleus laminaris is constructed, as a two-dimensional array of multicompartment, conductance-based neurons, along tonotopic and interaural time delay (ITD) axes. The model is based primarily on data from chick nucleus laminaris. Typical chick-like parameters perform ITD discrimination up to 2 kHz, and enhancements for barn owl perform ITD discrimination up to 6 kHz. The dendritic length gradient of NL is explained concisely. The response to binaural out-of-phase input is suppressed well below the response to monaural input (without any spontaneous activity on the opposite side), implicating active potassium channels as crucial to good ITD discrimination.
The magnocellular neurons of the hypothalamic supraoptic nucleus (SON) are a major source of both systemic and central release of the neurohypophyseal peptides, oxytocin (OXT) and arginine–vasopressin (AVP). Both OXT and AVP are released from the somatodendritic compartment of magnocellular neurons and act within the SON to modulate the electrophysiological function of these cells. Cannabinoids (CBs) affect hormonal output and the SON may represent a neural substrate through which CBs exert specific physiological and behavioural effects. Dynamic modulation of synaptic inputs is a fundamental mechanism through which neuronal output is controlled. Dendritically released OXT acts on autoreceptors to generate endocannabinoids (eCBs) which modify both excitatory and inhibitory inputs to OXT neurons through actions on presynaptic CB receptors. As such, OXT and eCBs cooperate to shape the electrophysiological properties of magnocellular OXT neurons, regulating the physiological function of this nucleus. Further study of eCB signalling in the SON, including its interaction with AVP neurons, promises to extend our understanding of the synaptic regulation of SON physiological function.
PMID: 18655878 CAMSID: cams2631
hypothalamus; oxytocin; magnocellular neurons; retrograde messengers
The central nucleus of the inferior colliculus (IC) is a laminated structure that receives multiple converging afferent projections. These projections terminate in a layered arrangement and are aligned with dendritic arbors of the predominant disc-shaped neurons, forming fibrodendritic laminae. Within this structural framework, inputs terminate in a precise manner, establishing a mosaic of partially overlapping domains that likely define functional compartments. Although several of these patterned inputs have been described in the adult, relatively little is known about their organization prior to hearing onset. The present study used the lipophilic carbocyanine dyes DiI and DiD to examine the ipsilateral and contralateral projections from the lateral superior olivary (LSO) nucleus to the IC in a developmental series of paraformaldehyde-fixed kitten tissue. By birth, the crossed and uncrossed projections had reached the IC and were distributed across the frequency axis of the central nucleus. At this earliest postnatal stage, projections already exhibited a characteristic banded arrangement similar to that described in the adult. The heaviest terminal fields of the two inputs were always complementary in nature, with the ipsilateral input appearing slightly denser. This early arrangement of interdigitating ipsilateral and contralateral LSO axonal bands that occupy adjacent sublayers supports the idea that the initial establishment of this highly organized mosaic of inputs that defines distinct synaptic domains within the IC occurs largely in the absence of auditory experience. Potential developmental mechanisms that may shape these highly ordered inputs prior to hearing onset are discussed.
auditory midbrain; lateral superior olive; inferior colliculus; development; fibrodendritic laminae; DiI
Afferent input regulates neuronal dendritic patterning locally and globally through distinct mechanisms. To begin to understand these mechanisms, we differentially manipulate afferent input in vivo and assess effects on dendritic patterning of individual neurons in chicken nucleus laminaris (NL). Dendrites of NL neurons segregate into dorsal and ventral domains, receiving excitatory input from the ipsilateral and contralateral ears, respectively, via nucleus magnocellularis (NM). Blocking action potentials from one ear, by either cochlea removal or temporary treatment with tetrodotoxin (TTX), leads to rapid and significant retraction of affected NL dendrites (dorsal ipsilaterally and ventral contralaterally) within 8h as compared to the other dendrites of the same neurons. The degree of retraction is comparable to that induced by direct deafferentation resulting from transection of NM axons. Importantly, when inner ear activity is allowed to recover from TTX treatments, retracted NL dendrites regrow to their normal length within 48h. The retraction and growth involve elimination of terminal branches and addition of new branches. Examination of changes in NL dendrites at 96h following unilateral cochlear removal, a manipulation that induces cell loss in NM and persistent blockage of afferent excitatory action potentials, reveals a significant correlation between cell death in the ipsilateral NM and the degree of dendritic retraction in NL. These results demonstrate that presynaptic action potentials rapidly and reversibly regulate dendritic patterning of postsynaptic neurons in a compartment specific manner, while long-term dendritic maintenance may be regulated in a way that is correlated with the presence of silent presynaptic appositions.
Initial analysis of interaural temporal disparities (ITDs), a cue for sound localization, occurs in the superior olivary complex. The medial superior olive (MSO) receives excitatory input from the left and right cochlear nuclei. Its neurons are believed to be coincidence detectors, discharging when input arrives simultaneously from the two sides. Many current psychophysical models assume a strict version of coincidence, in which neurons of the MSO cross correlate their left and right inputs. However, there have been few tests of this assumption. Here we examine data derived from two earlier studies of the MSO and compare the responses to the output of a computational model. We find that the MSO is not an ideal cross correlator. Ideal cross correlation implies a strict relationship between the precision of phase-locking of the inputs and the range of ITDs to which a neuron responds. This relationship does not appear to be met. Instead, the modeling implies that a neuron responds over a wider range of ITDs than expected from the inferred precision of phase-locking of the inputs. The responses are more consistent with a scheme in which the neuron can also be activated by the input from one side alone. Such activation degrades the tuning of neurons in the MSO to ITDs.
auditory neurophysiology; binaural hearing; interaural time differences; coincidence detection; phase-locking
Sound localization requires precise and specialized neural circuitry. A prominent and well-studied specialization is found in the mammalian auditory brainstem. Globular bushy cells of the ventral cochlear nucleus (VCN) project contralaterally to neurons of the medial nucleus of the trapezoid body (MNTB), where their large axons terminate on cell bodies of MNTB principal neurons, forming the calyces of Held. The VCN-MNTB pathway is necessary for the accurate computation of interaural intensity and time differences; MNTB neurons provide inhibitory input to the lateral superior olive, which compares levels of excitation from the ipsilateral ear to levels of tonotopically matched inhibition from the contralateral ear, and to the medial superior olive, where precise inhibition from MNTB neurons tunes the delays of binaural excitation. Here we review the morphological and physiological aspects of the development of the VCN-MNTB pathway and its calyceal termination, along with potential mechanisms that give rise to its precision. During embryonic development, VCN axons grow towards the midline, cross the midline into the region of the presumptive MNTB and then form collateral branches that will terminate in calyces of Held. In rodents, immature calyces of Held appear in MNTB during the first few days of postnatal life. These calyces mature morphologically and physiologically over the next three postnatal weeks, enabling fast, high fidelity transmission in the VCN-MNTB pathway.
Temporal coding in the auditory nerve is strikingly transformed in the cochlear nucleus. In contrast to fibers in the auditory nerve, some neurons in the cochlear nucleus can show “picket fence” phase-locking to low-frequency pure tones: they fire a precisely timed action potential at every cycle of the stimulus. Such synchronization enhancement and entrainment is particularly prominent in neurons with the spherical and globular morphology, described by Osen (1969). These neurons receive large axosomatic terminals from the auditory nerve - the endbulbs and modified endbulbs of Held - and project to binaural comparator nuclei in the superior olivary complex. The most popular model to account for picket fence phase-locking is monaural coincidence detection. This mechanism is plausible for globular neurons, which receive a large number of inputs. We draw attention to the existence of enhanced phase-locking and entrainment in spherical neurons, which receive too few endbulb inputs from the auditory nerve to make a coincidence detection of endbulb firings a plausible mechanism of synchronization enhancement.
temporal coding; binaural; synchronization; amplitude modulation; cochlear nucleus; jitter
Calcium signaling plays a role in synaptic regulation of dendritic structure, usually on the time scale of hours or days. Here we use immunocytochemistry to examine changes in expression of the plasma membrane calcium ATPase type 2 (PMCA2), a high-affinity calcium efflux protein, in the chick nucleus laminaris (NL) following manipulations of synaptic inputs. Dendrites of NL neurons segregate into dorsal and ventral domains, receiving excitatory input from the ipsilateral and contralateral ears, respectively, via nucleus magnocellularis (NM). Deprivation of the contralateral projection from NM to NL leads to rapid retraction of ventral, but not the dorsal, dendrites of NL neurons. Immunocytochemistry revealed symmetric distribution of PMCA2 in two neuropil regions of normally innervated NL. Electron microscopy confirmed that PMCA2 localizes in both NM terminals and NL dendrites. As early as 30 minutes following transection of the contralateral projection from NM to NL or unilateral cochlea removal, significant decreases in PMCA2 immunoreactivity were seen in the deprived neuropil of NL compared to the other neuropil which continued to receive normal input. The rapid decrease correlated with reductions in the immunoreactivity for the microtubule-associated protein 2, which affects cytoskeleton stabilization. These results suggest that PMCA2 is regulated independently in ventral and dorsal NL dendrites and/or their inputs from NM in a way that is correlated with presynaptic activity. This provides a potential mechanism by which deprivation can change calcium transport that, in turn, may be important for rapid, compartment-specific dendritic remodeling.
calcium homeostasis; afferent regulation; dendritic remodeling; activity-dependency; nucleus laminaris
Neurons in the nucleus laminaris (NL) of birds act as coincidence detectors and encode interaural time difference to localize the sound source in the azimuth plane. GABAergic transmission in a number of CNS nuclei including the NL is subject to a dual modulation by presynaptic GABAB receptors (GABABRs) and metabotropic glutamate receptors (mGluRs). Here, using in vitro whole-cell patch clamp recordings from acute brain slices of the chick, we characterized the following important but unknown properties pertaining to such a dual modulation: (1) emergence of functional GABA synapses in NL neurons; (2) the temporal onset of neuromodulation mediated by GABABRs and mGluRs; and (3) the physiological conditions under which GABABRs and mGluRs are activated by endogenous transmitters. We found that (1) GABAAR-mediated synaptic responses were observed in about half of the neurons at embryonic day 11 (E11); (2) GABABR-mediated modulation of the GABAergic transmission was detectable at E11, whereas the modulation by mGluRs did not emerge until E15; and (3) endogenous activity of GABABRs was induced by both low- (5 or 10 Hz) and high-frequency (200 Hz) stimulation of the GABAergic pathway, whereas endogenous activity of mGluRs was induced by high- (200 Hz) but not low-frequency (5 or 10 Hz) stimulation of the glutamatergic pathway. Furthermore, the endogenous activity of mGluRs was mediated by group II but not group III members. Therefore, autoreceptor-mediated modulation of GABAergic transmission emerges at the same time when the GABA synapses become functional. Heteroreceptor-mediated modulation appears at a later time and is receptor type dependent in vitro.
Neurons in the auditory midbrain are sensitive to differences in the timing of sounds at the two ears—an important sound localization cue. We used broadband noise stimuli to investigate the interaural-delay sensitivity of low-frequency neurons in two midbrain nuclei: the inferior colliculus (IC) and the dorsal nucleus of the lateral lemniscus. Noise-delay functions showed asymmetries not predicted from a linear dependence on interaural correlation: a stretching along the firing-rate dimension (rate asymmetry), and a skewing along the interaural-delay dimension (delay asymmetry). These asymmetries were produced by an envelope-sensitive component to the response that could not entirely be accounted for by monaural or binaural nonlinearities, instead indicating an enhancement of envelope sensitivity at or after the level of the superior olivary complex. In IC, the skew-like asymmetry was consistent with intermediate-type responses produced by the convergence of ipsilateral peak-type inputs and contralateral trough-type inputs. This suggests a stereotyped pattern of input to the IC. In the course of this analysis, we were also able to determine the contribution of time and phase components to neurons' internal delays. These findings have important consequences for the neural representation of interaural timing differences and interaural correlation—cues critical to the perception of acoustic space.
A recurring theme in theoretical work is that integration over populations of similarly tuned neurons can reduce neural noise. However, there are relatively few demonstrations of an explicit noise reduction mechanism in a neural network. Here we demonstrate that the brainstem of the barn owl includes a stage of processing apparently devoted to increasing the signal-to-noise ratio in the encoding of the interaural time difference (ITD), one of two primary binaural cues used to compute the position of a sound source in space. In the barn owl, the ITD is processed in a dedicated neural pathway that terminates at the core of the inferior colliculus (ICcc). The actual locus of the computation of the ITD is before ICcc in the nucleus laminaris (NL), and ICcc receives no inputs carrying information that did not originate in NL. Unlike in NL, the rate-ITD functions of ICcc neurons require as little as a single stimulus presentation per ITD to show coherent ITD tuning. ICcc neurons also displayed a greater dynamic range with a maximal difference in ITD response rates approximately double that seen in NL. These results indicate that ICcc neurons perform a computation functionally analogous to averaging across a population of similarly tuned NL neurons.
interaural time difference; sound localization; inferior colliculus; nucleus laminaris; barn owl; pooling
The lateral superior olive (LSO) is believed to encode differences in sound level at the two ears, a cue for azimuthal sound location. Most high-frequency-sensitive LSO neurons are binaural, receiving inputs from both ears. An inhibitory input from the contralateral ear, via the medial nucleus of the trapezoid body (MNTB), and excitatory input from the ipsilateral ear enable level differences to be encoded. However, the classical descriptions of low-frequency-sensitive neurons report primarily monaural cells with no contralateral inhibition. Anatomical and physiological evidence, however, shows that low-frequency LSO neurons receive low-frequency inhibitory input from ipsilateral MNTB, which in turn receives excitatory input from the contralateral cochlear nucleus and low-frequency excitatory input from the ipsilateral cochlear nucleus. Therefore, these neurons would be expected to be binaural with contralateral inhibition. Here, we re-examined binaural interaction in low-frequency (less than ~3 kHz) LSO neurons and phase locking in the MNTB. Phase locking to low-frequency tones in MNTB and ipsilaterally driven LSO neurons with frequency sensitivities < 1.2 kHz was enhanced relative to the auditory nerve. Moreover, most low-frequency LSO neurons exhibited contralateral inhibition: ipsilaterally driven responses were suppressed by raising the level of the contralateral stimulus; most neurons were sensitive to interaural time delays in pure tone and noise stimuli such that inhibition was nearly maximal when the stimuli were presented to the ears in-phase. The data demonstrate that low-frequency LSO neurons of cat are not monaural and can exhibit contralateral inhibition like their high-frequency counterparts.
lateral superior olive; medial nucleus of the trapezoid body; interaural time delay; interaural level difference; sound localization; phase locking
Inhibitory transmission is critical to sensory and motor processing and is believed to play a role in experience-dependent plasticity. The main inhibitory neurotransmitter in vertebrates, GABA, has been implicated in both sensory and motor aspects of vocalization in songbirds. To understand the role of GABAergic mechanisms in vocal communication, GABAergic elements must be characterized fully. Hence, we investigated GABA immunohistochemistry in the zebra finch brain, emphasizing auditory areas and song control nuclei. Several nuclei of the ascending auditory pathway showed a moderate to high density of GABAergic neurons including the cochlear nuclei, nucleus laminaris, superior olivary nucleus, mesencephalic nucleus lateralis pars dorsalis, and nucleus ovoidalis. Telencephalic auditory areas, including field L subfields L1, L2a and L3, as well as the caudomedial nidopallium (NCM) and mesopallium (CMM), contained GABAergic cells at particularly high densities. Considerable GABA labeling was also seen in the shelf area of caudodorsal nidopallium, and the cup area in the arcopallium, as well as in area X, the lateral magnocellular nucleus of the anterior nidopallium, the robust nucleus of the arcopallium and nidopallial nucleus HVC. GABAergic cells were typically small, most likely local inhibitory interneurons, although large GABA-positive cells that were sparsely distributed were also identified. GABA-positive neurites and puncta were identified in most nuclei of the ascending auditory pathway and in song control nuclei. Our data are in accordance with a prominent role of GABAergic mechanisms in regulating the neural circuits involved in song perceptual processing, motor production, and vocal learning in songbirds.
GAD; Avian; NCM; Songbird; Plasticity; HVC
Tonic inhibition mediated by extrasynaptic γ-aminobutyric acid A receptors (GABAARs) has emerged as a novel form of neural inhibition in the CNS. However, little is known about its presence and function in the auditory system. Using whole-cell recordings in brain slices, we identified a tonic current mediated by GABAARs containing the δ subunit in middle/high-characteristic-frequency neurons of the chicken nucleus laminaris, the first interaural time difference encoder that computes information for sound localization. This tonic conductance was activated by ambient concentrations of GABA released from synaptic vesicles. Furthermore, pharmacological manipulations of the conductance demonstrated its essential role in coincidence detection. Remarkably, this depolarizing tonic conductance was strongly inhibitory primarily owing to its shunting effect. These results demonstrate a novel role for tonic inhibition in central auditory information processing.
GABA; inhibition; neuromodulation; auditory; temporal coding; sound localization
Neurons have a wide range of dendritic morphologies the functions of which are largely unknown. We used an optimization procedure to find neuronal morphological structures for two computational tasks: first, neuronal morphologies were selected for linearly summing excitatory synaptic potentials (EP-SPs); second, structures were selected that distinguished the temporal order of EPSPs. The solutions resembled the morphology of real neurons. In particular the neurons optimized for linear summation electrotonically separated their synapses, as found in avian nucleus laminaris neurons, and neurons optimized for spike-order detection had primary dendrites of significantly different diameter, as found in the basal and apical dendrites of cortical pyramidal neurons. This similarity makes an experimentally testable prediction of our theoretical approach, which is that pyramidal neurons can act as spike-order detectors for basal and apical inputs. The automated mapping between neuronal function and structure introduced here could allow a large catalog of computational functions to be built indexed by morphological structure.