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1.  Effects of Electrical Stimulation of Olivocochlear Fibers in Cochlear Potentials in the Chinchilla 
The mammalian cochlea has two types of sensory cells; inner hair cells, which receive auditory-nerve afferent innervation, and outer hair cells, innervated by efferent axons of the medial olivocochlear (MOC) system. The role of the MOC system in hearing is still controversial. Recently, by recording cochlear potentials in behaving chinchillas, we suggested that one of the possible functions of the efferent system is to reduce cochlear sensitivity during attention to other sensory modalities (Delano et al. in J Neurosci 27:4146–4153, 2007). However, in spite of these compelling results, the physiological effects of electrical MOC activation on cochlear potentials have not been described in detail in chinchillas. The main objective of the present work was to describe these efferent effects in the chinchilla, comparing them with those in other species and in behavioral experiments. We activated the MOC efferent axons in chinchillas with sectioned middle-ear muscles by applying current pulses at the fourth-ventricle floor. Auditory-nerve compound action potentials (CAP) and cochlear microphonics (CM) were acquired in response to clicks and tones of several frequencies, using a round-window electrode. Electrical efferent stimulation produced CAP amplitude suppressions reaching up to 11 dB. They were higher for low to moderate sound levels. Additionally, CM amplitude increments were found, the largest (≤ 2.5 dB) for low intensity tones. CAP suppression was present at all stimulus frequencies, but was greatest for 2 kHz. CM increments were highest for low-frequency tones, and almost absent at high frequencies. We conclude that the effect obtained in chinchilla is similar to but smaller than that observed in cats, and that the effects seen in awake chinchillas, albeit different in magnitude, are consistent with the activation of efferent fibers.
PMCID: PMC3085692  PMID: 21365333
auditory efferent; olivocochlear; chinchilla; electric stimulation; cochlear potentials
2.  Cholinergic Cells of the Pontomesencephalic Tegmentum: Connections with Auditory Structures from Cochlear Nucleus to Cortex 
Hearing research  2010;279(1-2):85-95.
Acetylcholine (ACh) is a neuromodulator that is likely to play a role in plasticity as well as other phenomena at many sites in the auditory system. The auditory cortex receives cholinergic innervation from the basal forebrain, whereas the cochlea receives cholinergic innervation from the superior olivary complex. Much of the remainder of the auditory pathways receives innervation from the pedunculopontine and laterodorsal tegmental nuclei, two nuclei referred to collectively as the pontomesencephalic tegmentum (PMT). The PMT provides the major source of ACh to the auditory thalamus and the midbrain, and is a substantial source (in addition to the superior olivary complex) of ACh in the cochlear nucleus. Individual cholinergic cells in the PMT often have axon branches that innervate multiple auditory nuclei, including nuclei on both sides of the brain as well as nuclei at multiple levels of the auditory system. The auditory cortex has direct axonal projections to the PMT cells, including cholinergic cells that project to the inferior colliculus or cochlear nucleus. The divergent projections of PMT cholinergic cells suggest widespread effects on the auditory pathways. These effects are likely to include plasticity as well as novelty detection, sensory gating, reward behavior, arousal and attention. Descending projections from the forebrain, including the auditory cortex, are likely to provide a high level of cognitive input to these cholinergic effects. Dysfunction associated with the cholinergic system may play a role in disorders such as tinnitus and schizophrenia.
PMCID: PMC3087857  PMID: 21195150
inferior colliculus; tinnitus; plasticity; pedunculopontine tegmental nucleus; laterodorsal tegmental nucleus
3.  Contralateral cochlear effects of ipsilateral damage: no evidence for interaural coupling 
Hearing research  2009;260(1-2):70.
Lesion studies of the olivocochlear efferents have suggested that feedback via this neuronal pathway normally maintains an appropriate binaural balance in excitability of the two cochlear nerves (Darrow et al., 2006). If true, a decrease in cochlear nerve output from one ear, due to conductive or sensorineural hearing loss, should change cochlear nerve response in the opposite ear via modulation in olivocochlear feedback. To investigate this putative efferent-mediated interaural coupling, we measured cochlear responses repeatedly from both ears in groups of mice for several weeks before, and for up to 5 weeks after, a unilateral manipulation causing either conductive or sensorineural hearing loss. Response measures included amplitude-vs.-level functions for distortion product otoacoustic emissions (DPOAEs) and auditory brainstem responses (ABRs), evoked at 7 log-spaced frequencies. Ipsilateral manipulations included either tympanic membrane removal or an acoustic overstimulation designed to produce a reversible or irreversible threshold shift over a restricted frequency range. None of these ipsilateral manipulations produced systematic changes in contralateral cochlear responses, either at threshold or suprathreshold levels, either in ABRs or DPOAEs. Thus, we find no evidence for compensatory contralateral changes following ipsilateral hearing loss. We did, however, find evidence for age-related increases in DPOAE amplitudes as animals mature from 6 to 12 weeks and evidence for a slow apical spread of noise-induced threshold shifts, which continues for several days post-exposure.
PMCID: PMC2815182  PMID: 19944141
hearing loss; feedback; acoustic injury
Purpose of review
This review covers papers published between 2010 and early 2011 that presented new findings on inner ear-efferents and their ability to modulate hair cell function.
Recent findings
Studies published within the review period have increased our understanding of efferent mechanisms on hair cells in the cochlear and vestibular sensory epithelium and provide insights on efferent contributions to the plasticity of bilateral auditory processing. The central nervous system controls the sensitivity of hair cells to physiological stimuli by regulating the gain of hair cell electromechanical amplification and modulating the efficiency of hair cell-8th nerve transmission. A notable advance in the past year has been animal and human studies that have examined the contribution of the olivocochlear efferents to sound localization particularly in a noisy environment.
Acoustic activation of olivocochlear fibers provides a clinical test for the integrity of the peripheral auditory system and has provided new understanding about the function and limitations of the cochlear amplifier. While similar tests may be possible in the efferent vestibular system they have not yet been developed. The structural and functional similarities of the sensory epithelia in the inner ear offer hope that testing procedures may be developed that will allow reliable testing of the vestibular hair cell function.
PMCID: PMC3343276  PMID: 22552698
olivocochlear; hearing; efferent vestibular system; balance; descending control; bilateral integration
5.  Efferent Control of the Electrical and Mechanical Properties of Hair Cells in the Bullfrog's Sacculus 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(10):e13777.
Hair cells in the auditory, vestibular, and lateral-line systems respond to mechanical stimulation and transmit information to afferent nerve fibers. The sensitivity of mechanoelectrical transduction is modulated by the efferent pathway, whose activity usually reduces the responsiveness of hair cells. The basis of this effect remains unknown.
Methodology and Principal Findings
We employed immunocytological, electrophysiological, and micromechanical approaches to characterize the anatomy of efferent innervation and the effect of efferent activity on the electrical and mechanical properties of hair cells in the bullfrog's sacculus. We found that efferent fibers form extensive synaptic terminals on all macular and extramacular hair cells. Macular hair cells expressing the Ca2+-buffering protein calretinin contain half as many synaptic ribbons and are innervated by twice as many efferent terminals as calretinin-negative hair cells. Efferent activity elicits inhibitory postsynaptic potentials in hair cells and thus inhibits their electrical resonance. In hair cells that exhibit spiking activity, efferent stimulation suppresses the generation of action potentials. Finally, efferent activity triggers a displacement of the hair bundle's resting position.
Conclusions and Significance
The hair cells of the bullfrog's sacculus receive a rich efferent innervation with the heaviest projection to calretinin-containing cells. Stimulation of efferent axons desensitizes the hair cells and suppresses their spiking activity. Although efferent activation influences mechanoelectrical transduction, the mechanical effects on hair bundles are inconsistent.
PMCID: PMC2966443  PMID: 21048944
6.  Ca2+ and Ca2+-activated K+ channels that support and modulate transmitter release at the olivocochlear efferent-inner hair cell synapse 
In the mammalian auditory system, the synapse between efferent olivocochlear (OC) neurons and sensory cochlear hair cells is cholinergic, fast and inhibitory. This efferent synapse is mediated by the nicotinic α9α10 receptor coupled to the activation of SK2 Ca2+-activated K+ channels that hyperpolarize the cell. So far, the ion channels that support and/or modulate neurotransmitter release from the OC terminals remain unknown. To identify these channels, we used an isolated mouse cochlear preparation and monitored transmitter release from the efferent synaptic terminals in inner hair cells (IHCs) voltage-clamped in the whole-cell recording configuration. Acetylcholine (ACh) release was evoked by electrically stimulating the efferent fibers that make axosomatic contacts with IHCs before the onset of hearing. Using the specific antagonists for P/Q-and N-type voltage-gated calcium channels (VGCCs), ω-agatoxin IVA and ω-conotoxin GVIA, respectively, we show that Ca2+ entering through both types of VGCCs support the release process at this synapse. Interestingly, we found that Ca2+ entering through the dihydropiridine-sensitive L-type VGCCs exerts a negative control on transmitter release. Moreover, using immunostaining techniques combined with electrophysiology and pharmacology, we show that BK Ca2+-activated K+ channels are transiently expressed at the OC efferent terminals contacting IHCs and that their activity modulates the release process at this synapse. The effects of dihydropiridines combined with iberiotoxin, a specific BK channel antagonist, strongly suggest that L-type VGCCs negatively regulate the release of ACh by fueling BK channels which are known to curtail the duration of the terminal action potential in several types of neurons.
PMCID: PMC2963083  PMID: 20826678
Synaptic transmission; Calcium channels; BK channels; cochlea; hair cells; efferent
7.  Fast and Slow Effects of Medial Olivocochlear Efferent Activity in Humans 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(4):e18725.
The medial olivocochlear (MOC) pathway modulates basilar membrane motion and auditory nerve activity on both a fast (10–100 ms) and a slow (10–100 s) time scale in guinea pigs. The slow MOC modulation of cochlear activity is postulated to aide in protection against acoustic trauma. However in humans, the existence and functional roles of slow MOC effects remain unexplored.
Methodology/Principal Findings
By employing contralateral noise at moderate to high levels (68 and 83 dB SPL) as an MOC reflex elicitor, and spontaneous otoacoustic emissions (SOAEs) as a non-invasive probe of the cochlea, we demonstrated MOC modulation of human cochlear output both on a fast and a slow time scale, analogous to the fast and slow MOC efferent effects observed on basilar membrane vibration and auditory nerve activity in guinea pigs. The magnitude of slow effects was minimal compared with that of fast effects. Consistent with basilar membrane and auditory nerve activity data, SOAE level was reduced by both fast and slow MOC effects, whereas SOAE frequency was elevated by fast and reduced by slow MOC effects. The magnitudes of fast and slow effects on SOAE level were positively correlated.
Contralateral noise up to 83 dB SPL elicited minimal yet significant changes in both SOAE level and frequency on a slow time scale, consistent with a high threshold or small magnitude of slow MOC effects in humans.
PMCID: PMC3073004  PMID: 21494578
8.  Overexpression of SK2 Channels Enhances Efferent Suppression of Cochlear Responses without Enhancing Noise Resistance 
Journal of neurophysiology  2007;97(4):2930-2936.
Cochlear hair cells express SK2, a small-conductance Ca2+-activated K+ channel thought to act in concert with Ca2+-permeable nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) α9 and α10 in mediating suppressive effects of the olivocochlear efferent innervation. To probe the in vivo role of SK2 channels in hearing, we examined gene expression, cochlear function, efferent suppression and noise vulnerability in mice overexpressing SK2 channels. Cochlear thresholds, as measured by auditory brainstem responses and otoacoustic emissions were normal in overexpressers, as was overall cochlear morphology and the size, number and distribution of efferent terminals on outer hair cells. Cochlear expression levels of SK2 channels were elevated 8-fold, without striking changes in other SK channels or in the α9/α10 nAChRs. Shock-evoked efferent suppression of cochlear responses was significantly enhanced in overexpresser mice, as seen previously in α9 overexpresser mice (Maison et al. 2002); however, in contrast to α9 overexpressers, SK2 overexpressers were not protected from acoustic injury. Results suggest that efferent-mediated cochlear protection is mediated by other downstream effects of ACh-mediated Ca2+ entry, different from those involving SK2-mediated hyperpolarization and the associated reduction in outer hair cell electromotility.
PMCID: PMC1850627  PMID: 17267753
Hair cell; Olivocochlear
9.  Electrical Properties and Functional Expression of Ionic Channels in Cochlear Inner Hair Cells of Mice Lacking the α10 Nicotinic Cholinergic Receptor Subunit 
Cochlear inner hair cells (IHCs) release neurotransmitter onto afferent auditory nerve fibers in response to sound stimulation. During early development, synaptic transmission is triggered by spontaneous Ca2+ spikes which are modulated by an efferent cholinergic innervation to IHCs. This synapse is inhibitory and mediated by the α9α10 nicotinic cholinergic receptor (nAChR). After the onset of hearing, large-conductance Ca2+-activated K+ channels are acquired and both the spiking activity and the efferent innervation disappear from IHCs. In this work, we studied the developmental changes in the membrane properties of cochlear IHCs from α10 nAChR gene (Chrna10) “knockout” mice. Electrophysiological properties of IHCs were studied by whole-cell recordings in acutely excised apical turns of the organ of Corti from developing mice. Neither the spiking activity nor the developmental functional expression of voltage-gated and/or calcium-sensitive K+ channels is altered in the absence of the α10 nAChR subunit. The present results show that the α10 nAChR subunit is not essential for the correct establishment of the intrinsic electrical properties of IHCs during development.
PMCID: PMC2674205  PMID: 19252947
calcium spikes; voltage-gated K+ channels; calcium-sensitive K+ channels; cholinergic; development; auditory
10.  Functional Role of GABAergic Innervation of the Cochlea: Phenotypic Analysis of Mice Lacking GABAA Receptor Subunits α1, α2, α5, α6, β2, β3, or δ 
The olivocochlear efferent system is both cholinergic and GABAergic and innervates sensory cells and sensory neurons of the inner ear. Cholinergic effects on cochlear sensory cells are well characterized, both in vivo and in vitro; however, the robust GABAergic innervation is poorly understood. To explore the functional roles of GABA in the inner ear, we characterized the cochlear phenotype of seven mouse lines with targeted deletion of a GABAA receptor subunit (α1, α2, α5, α6, β2, β3, or δ). Four of the lines (α1, α2, α6, and δ) were normal: there was no cochlear histopathology, and cochlear responses suggested normal function of hair cells, afferent fibers, and efferent feedback. The other three lines (α5, β2, and β3) showed threshold elevations indicative of outer hair cell dysfunction. α5 and β2 lines also showed decreased effects of efferent bundle activation, associated with decreased density of efferent terminals on outer hair cells: although the onset of this degeneration was later in α5 (>6 weeks) than β2 (<6 weeks), both lines shows normal efferent development (up to 3 weeks). Two lines (β2 and β3) showed signs of neuropathy, either decreased density of afferent innervation (β3) or decreased neural responses without concomitant attenuation of hair cell responses (β2). One of the lines (β2) showed a clear sexual dimorphism in cochlear phenotype. Results suggest that the GABAergic component of the olivocochlear system contributes to the long-term maintenance of hair cells and neurons in the inner ear.
PMCID: PMC1806703  PMID: 17021187
efferent; hair cell; olivocochlear; auditory; feedback; knock-out mice
11.  Disruption of Lateral Olivocochlear Neurons via a Dopaminergic Neurotoxin Depresses Sound-Evoked Auditory Nerve Activity 
We applied the dopaminergic (DA) neurotoxin 1-methyl-4-phenyl-1,2,3,6-tetrahydropyridine (MPTP) to the guinea pig cochlear perilymph. Immunolabeling of lateral olivocochlear (LOC) neurons using antibodies against synaptophysin was reduced after the MPTP treatment. In contrast, labeling of the medial olivocochlear innervation remained intact. As after brainstem lesions of the lateral superior olive (LSO), the site of origin of the LOC neurons, the main effect of disrupting LOC innervation of the cochlea via MPTP was a depression of the amplitude of the compound action potential (CAP). CAP amplitude depression was similar to that produced by LSO lesions. Latency of the N1 component of the CAP, and distortion product otoacoustic emission amplitude and adaptation were unchanged by the MPTP treatment. This technique for selectively lesioning descending LOC efferents provides a new opportunity for examining LOC modulation of afferent activity and behavioral measures of perception.
PMCID: PMC2504639  PMID: 15735934
MPTP; olivocochlear efferent; compound action potential
12.  Efferent Feedback Minimizes Cochlear Neuropathy from Moderate Noise Exposure 
Although protective effects of the cochlea’s efferent feedback pathways have been well documented, prior work has focused on hair cell damage and cochlear threshold elevation and, correspondingly, on the high sound pressure levels (> 100 dB SPL) necessary to produce them. Here we explore the noise-induced loss of cochlear neurons that occurs with lower intensity exposures and in the absence of permanent threshold shifts. Using confocal microscopy to count synapses between hair cells and cochlear nerve fibers, and using measurement of auditory brainstem responses and otoacoustic emissions to assess cochlear pre- and post-synaptic function, we compare the damage from a weeklong exposure to moderate-level noise (84 dB SPL) in mice with varying degrees of cochlear de-efferentation induced by surgical lesion to the olivocochlear pathway. Such exposure causes minimal acute threshold shift and no chronic shifts in mice with normal efferent feedback. In de-efferented animals, there was up to 40% loss of cochlear nerve synapses and a corresponding decline in the amplitude of the auditory brainstem response. Quantitative analysis of the de-efferentation in inner vs. outer hair cell areas suggested that outer hair cell efferents are most important in minimizing this neuropathy, presumably by virtue of their sound-evoked feedback reduction of cochlear amplification. The moderate nature of this acoustic overexposure suggests that cochlear neurons are at risk even in everyday acoustic environments, and, thus, that the need for cochlear protection is plausible as a driving force in the design of this feedback pathway.
PMCID: PMC3640841  PMID: 23536069
Auditory neuropathy; olivocochlear; hair cells; cochlea; noise; acoustic injury; feedback
13.  Dopaminergic Innervation of the Mouse Inner Ear: Evidence for a Separate Cytochemical Group of Cochlear Efferent Fibers 
Immunostaining mouse cochleas for tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) and dopamine β-hydroxylase suggests that there is a rich adrenergic innervation throughout the auditory nerve trunk and a small dopaminergic innervation of the sensory cell areas. Surgical cuts in the brainstem confirm these dopaminergic fibers as part of the olivocochlear efferent bundle. Within the sensory epithelium, TH-positive terminals are seen only in the inner hair cell area, where they intermingle with other olivocochlear terminals expressing cholinergic markers (vesicular acetylcholine transporter; VAT). Double immunostaining suggests little colocalization of TH and VAT; quantification of terminal volumes suggests that TH-positive fibers constitute only 10–20% of the efferent innervation of the inner hair cell area. Immunostaining of mouse brainstem revealed a small population of TH-positive cells in and around the lateral superior olive. Consistent with cochlear projections, double staining for the cholinergic marker acetylcholinesterase suggested that TH-positive somata are not cholinergic and vice versa. All observations are consistent with the view that a small dopaminergic subgroup of lateral olivocochlear neurons 1) projects to the inner hair cell area, 2) is distinct from the larger cholinergic group projecting there, and 3) may correspond to lateral olivocochlear “shell” neurons described by others (Warr et al. [1997] Hear. Res 108:89–111).
PMCID: PMC1805779  PMID: 16871528
tyrosine hydroxylase; colocalization; hearing; feedback control; olivocochlear
14.  Evaluation of Inner Hair Cell and Nerve Fiber Loss as Sufficient Pathologies Underlying Auditory Neuropathy 
Hearing research  2009;255(1-2):84-90.
Auditory neuropathy is a hearing disorder characterized by normal function of outer hair cells, evidenced by intact cochlear microphonic (CM) potentials and otoacoustic emissions (OAEs), with absent or severely dys-synchronized auditory brainstem responses (ABRs). To determine if selective lesions of inner hair cells (IHCs) and auditory nerve fibers (ANFs) can account for these primary clinical features of auditory neuropathy, we measured physiological responses from chinchillas with large lesions of ANFs (about 85%) and IHCs (45% loss in the apical half of the cochlea; 73% in the basal half). Distortion product OAEs and CM potentials were significantly enhanced, whereas summating potentials and compound action potentials (CAPs) were significantly reduced. CAP threshold was elevated by 7.5 dB, but response synchrony was well preserved down to threshold levels of stimulation. Similarly, ABR threshold was elevated by 5.6 dB, but all waves were present and well synchronized down to threshold levels in all animals. Thus, large lesions of IHCs and ANFs reduced response amplitudes but did not abolish or severely dys-synchronize CAPs or ABRs. Pathologies other than or in addition to ANF and IHC loss are likely to account for the evoked potential dys-synchrony that is a clinical hallmark of auditory neuropathy in humans.
PMCID: PMC2735340  PMID: 19531376
Auditory neuropathy; inner hair cells; auditory nerve; carboplatin; auditory brainstem response; cochlea; auditory evoked potentials
15.  Cholinergic efferent synaptic transmission regulates the maturation of auditory hair cell ribbon synapses 
Open Biology  2013;3(11):130163.
Spontaneous electrical activity generated by developing sensory cells and neurons is crucial for the maturation of neural circuits. The full maturation of mammalian auditory inner hair cells (IHCs) depends on patterns of spontaneous action potentials during a ‘critical period’ of development. The intrinsic spiking activity of IHCs can be modulated by inhibitory input from cholinergic efferent fibres descending from the brainstem, which transiently innervate immature IHCs. However, it remains unknown whether this transient efferent input to developing IHCs is required for their functional maturation. We used a mouse model that lacks the α9-nicotinic acetylcholine receptor subunit (α9nAChR) in IHCs and another lacking synaptotagmin-2 in the efferent terminals to remove or reduce efferent input to IHCs, respectively. We found that the efferent system is required for the developmental linearization of the Ca2+-sensitivity of vesicle fusion at IHC ribbon synapses, without affecting their general cell development. This provides the first direct evidence that the efferent system, by modulating IHC electrical activity, is required for the maturation of the IHC synaptic machinery. The central control of sensory cell development is unique among sensory systems.
PMCID: PMC3843824  PMID: 24350389
hair cell; development; cochlea; calcium current; exocytosis; efferent system
16.  Basilar membrane responses to two-tone and broadband stimuli 
The responses to sound of mammalian cochlear neurons exhibit many nonlinearities, some of which (such as two-tone rate suppression and intermodulation distortion) are highly frequency specific, being strongly tuned to the characteristic frequency (cf) of the neuron. With the goal of establishing the cochlear origin of these auditory-nerve nonlinearities, mechanical responses to clicks and to pairs of tones were studied in relatively healthy chinchilla cochleae at a basal site of the basilar membrane with cf of 8–10 kHz. Responses were also obtained in cochleae in which hair cell receptor potentials were reduced by systemic furosemide injection. Vibrations were recorded using either the Mössbauer technique or laser Doppler-shift velocimetry. Responses to tone pairs contained intermodulation distortion products whose magnitudes as a function of stimulus frequency and intensity were comparable to those of distortion products in cochlear afferent responses. Responses to cf tones could be selectively suppressed by tones with frequency either higher or lower than cf; in most respects, mechanical two-tone suppression resembled rate suppression in cochlear afferents. Responses to clicks displayed a cf-specific compressive nonlinearity, similar to that present in responses to single tones, which could be profoundly and selectively reduced by furosemide. The present findings firmly support the hypothesis that all cf-specific nonlinearities present in the auditory nerve originate in analogous phenomena of basilar membrane vibration. However, because of their lability, it is almost certain that the mechanical nonlinearities themselves originate in outer hair cells.
PMCID: PMC3578387  PMID: 1354369
17.  Why do hair cells and spiral ganglion neurons in the cochlea die during aging? 
Aging and Disease  2011;2(3):231-241.
Age-related decline of cochlear function is mainly due to the loss of hair cells and spiral ganglion neurons (SGNs). Recent findings clearly indicate that survival of these two cell types during aging depends on genetic and environmental interactions, and this relationship is seen at the systemic, tissue, cellular, and molecular levels. At cellular and molecular levels, age-related loss of hair cells and SGNs can occur independently, suggesting distinct mechanisms for the death of each during aging. This mechanistic independence is also observed in the loss of medial olivocochlear efferent innervation and outer hair cells during aging, pointing to a universal independent cellular mechanism for age-related neuronal death in the peripheral auditory system. While several molecular signaling pathways are implicated in the age-related loss of hair cells and SGNs, studies with the ability to locally modify gene expression in these cell types are needed to address whether these signaling pathways have direct effects on hair cells and SGNs during aging. Finally, the issue of whether age-related loss of these cells occurs via typical apoptotic pathways requires further examination. As new studies in the field of aging reshape the framework for exploring these underpinnings, understanding of the loss of hair cells and SGNs associated with age and the interventions that can treat and prevent these changes will result in dramatic benefits for an aging population.
PMCID: PMC3295057  PMID: 22396875
Aging; Hearing loss; Spiral ganglion neurons; Hair cells; Cochlea
18.  Auditory tracts identified with combined fMRI and diffusion tractography 
Neuroimage  2014;84(100):562-574.
The auditory tracts in the human brain connect the inferior colliculus (IC) and medial geniculate body (MGB) to various components of the auditory cortex (AC). While in non-human primates and in humans, the auditory system is differentiated in core, belt and parabelt areas, the correspondence between these areas and anatomical landmarks on the human superior temporal gyri is not straightforward, and at present not completely understood. However it is not controversial that there is a hierarchical organization of auditory stimuli processing in the auditory system. The aims of this study were to demonstrate that it is possible to non-invasively and robustly identify auditory projections between the auditory thalamus/brainstem and different functional levels of auditory analysis in the cortex of human subjects in vivo combining functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) with diffusion MRI, and to investigate the possibility of differentiating between different components of the auditory pathways (e.g. projections to areas responsible for sound, pitch and melody processing). We hypothesized that the major limitation in the identification of the auditory pathways is the known problem of crossing fibres and addressed this issue acquiring DTI with b-values higher than commonly used and adopting a multi-fibre ball-and-stick analysis model combined with probabilistic tractography. Fourteen healthy subjects were studied. Auditory areas were localized functionally using an established hierarchical pitch processing fMRI paradigm. Together fMRI and diffusion MRI allowed the successful identification of tracts connecting IC with AC in 64 to 86% of hemispheres and left sound areas with homologous areas in the right hemisphere in 86% of hemispheres. The identified tracts corresponded closely with a three-dimensional stereotaxic atlas based on postmortem data. The findings have both neuroscientific and clinical implications for delineation of the human auditory system in vivo.
•We combine fMRI and DTI to successfully identify the auditory pathways in volunteers.•Tractography results are comparable to postmortem atlas data.•Clinical fMRI/DTI can successfully identify cortico-subcortical auditory pathways.•Ascending and descending auditory pathways cannot be differentiated with MRI.
PMCID: PMC3898984  PMID: 24051357
AC, auditory cortex; AM, amplitude modulation; BOLD, blood oxygenation level dependent; CoG, centre of gravity; cSD, constrained spherical deconvolution; DSI, diffusion spectrum imaging; DTI, diffusion tensor imaging; EPI, echo planar imaging; FDR, false discovery rate; fMRI, functional magnetic resonance imaging; HG, Heschl's gyrus; IndConn, index of connectivity; IC, inferior colliculus; IRN, iterated ripple noise; MGB, medial geniculate body; MNI, Montreal Neurological Institute; MRI, magnetic resonance imaging; PAS, persistent angular structure; PET, positron emission tomography; PP, planum polaris; PT, planum temporalis; SD, spherical deconvolution; SN, substantia nigra; STG, superior temporal gyrus; Auditory tracts; Auditory radiation; fMRI; DTI; Tractography
19.  Selective removal of lateral olivocochlear efferents increases vulnerability to acute acoustic injury 
Journal of neurophysiology  2006;97(2):1775-1785.
Cochlear sensory cells and neurons receive efferent feedback from the olivocochlear (OC) system. The myelinated medial component of the OC system, and its effects on outer hair cells (OHCs), has been implicated in protection from acoustic injury. The unmyelinated lateral (L)OC fibers target ipsilateral cochlear nerve dendrites, and pharmacological studies suggest the LOC's dopaminergic component may protect these dendrites from excitotoxic effects of acoustic overexposure. Here, we explore LOC function in vivo via selective stereotaxic destruction of LOC cell bodies in mouse. Lesion success in removing the LOC, and sparing the MOC, was assessed by histological analysis of brainstem sections and cochlear whole-mounts. Auditory brainstem responses (ABR), a neural-based metric, and distortion product otoacoustic emissions (DPOAEs), an OHC-based metric, were measured in control and surgical mice. In cases where the LOC was at least partially destroyed, there were increases in suprathreshold neural responses that were frequency- and level-independent, and not attributable to OHC-based effects. These interaural response asymmetries were not found in controls, or in cases where the lesion missed the LOC. In LOC-lesion cases, after exposure to a traumatic stimulus, temporary threshold shifts were greater in the ipsilateral ear, but only when measured in the neural response; OHC-based measurements were always bilaterally symmetric, suggesting OHC vulnerability was unaffected. Interaural asymmetries in threshold shift were not found in either unlesioned controls or in cases which missed the LOC. These findings suggest that the LOC modulates cochlear nerve excitability and protects the cochlea from neural damage in acute acoustic injury.
PMCID: PMC1805782  PMID: 17093118
Cochlea; Excitotoxicity; Noise-induced hearing loss; Feedback control
20.  Cognitive Task Demands Modulate the Sensitivity of the Human Cochlea 
Recent studies lead to the conclusion that focused attention, through the activity of corticofugal and medial olivocochlear (MOC) efferent pathways, modulates activity at the most peripheral aspects of the auditory system within the cochlea. In two experiments, we investigated the effects of different intermodal attention manipulations on the response of outer hair cells (OHCs), and the control exerted by the MOC efferent system. The effect of the MOCs on OHC activity was characterized by measuring the amplitude and rapid adaptation time course of distortion product otoacoustic emissions (DPOAEs). In the first, DPOAE recordings were compared while participants were reading a book and counting the occurrence of the letter “a” (auditory-ignoring) and while counting either short- or long-duration eliciting tones (auditory-attending). In the second, DPOAEs were recorded while subjects watched muted movies with subtitles (auditory-ignoring/visual distraction) and were compared with DPOAEs recorded while subjects counted the same tones (auditory-attending) as in Experiment 1. In both Experiments 1 and 2, the absolute level of the averaged DPOAEs recorded during the auditory-ignoring condition was statistically higher than that recorded in the auditory-attending condition. Efferent-induced rapid adaptation was evident in all DPOAE contours, under all attention conditions, suggesting that two medial efferent processes act independently to determine rapid adaptation, which is unaffected by attention, and the overall DPOAE level, which is significantly affected by changes in the focus of attention.
PMCID: PMC3277933  PMID: 22347870
corticofugal pathways; medial olivocochlear efferents; MOC; selective auditory attention; distortion product otoacoustic emission; DPOAE; human
21.  A connection between the Efferent Auditory System and Noise-Induced Tinnitus Generation. Reduced contralateral suppression of TEOAEs in patients with noise-induced tinnitus 
Subjective tinnitus is an auditory perception that is not caused by external stimulation, its source being anywhere in the auditory system. Furthermore, evidence exists that exposure to noise alters cochlear micromechanics, either directly or through complex feed-back mechanisms, involving the medial olivocochlear efferent system. The aim of this study was to assess the role of the efferent auditory system in noise-induced tinnitus generation.
Contralateral sound-activated suppression of TEOAEs was performed in a group of 28 subjects with noise-induced tinnitus (NIT) versus a group of 35 subjects with normal hearing and tinnitus, without any history of exposure to intense occupational or recreational noise (idiopathic tinnitus-IT). Thirty healthy, normally hearing volunteers were used as controls for the efferent suppression test.
Suppression of the TEOAE amplitude less than 1 dB SPL was considered abnormal, giving a false positive rate of 6.7%. Eighteen out of 28 (64.3%) patients of the NIT group and 9 out of 35 (25.7%) patients of the IT group showed abnormal suppression values, which were significantly different from the controls’ (p<0.0001 and p<0.045, respectively).
The abnormal activity of the efferent auditory system in NIT cases might indicate that either the activity of the efferent fibers innervating the outer hair cells (OHCs) is impaired or that the damaged OHCs themselves respond abnormally to the efferent stimulation.
PMCID: PMC3539568  PMID: 21709642
tinnitus; otoacoustic emissions; efferent auditory system; suppression; noise-induced hearing loss
22.  Transgenic BDNF induces nerve fiber regrowth into the auditory epithelium in deaf cochleae 
Experimental neurology  2010;223(2):464-472.
Sensory organs typically use receptor cells and afferent neurons to transduce environmental signals and transmit them to the CNS. When sensory cells are lost, nerves often regress from the sensory area. Therapeutic and regenerative approaches would benefit from the presence of nerve fibers in the tissue. In the hearing system, retraction of afferent innervation may accompany the degeneration of auditory hair cells that is associated with permanent hearing loss. The only therapy currently available for cases with severe or complete loss of hair cells is the cochlear implant auditory prosthesis. To enhance the therapeutic benefits of a cochlear implant, it is necessary to attract nerve fibers back into the cochlear epithelium. Here we show that forced expression of the neurotrophin gene BDNF in epithelial or mesothelial cells that remain in the deaf ear, induces robust regrowth of nerve fibers towards the cells that secrete the neurotrophin, and results in re-innervation of the sensory area. The process of neurotrophin-induced neuronal regeneration is accompanied by significant preservation of the spiral ganglion cells. The ability to regrow nerve fibers into the basilar membrane area and protect the auditory nerve will enhance performance of cochlear implants and augment future cell replacement therapies such as stem cell implantation or induced transdifferentiation. This model also provides a general experimental stage for drawing nerve fibers into a tissue devoid of neurons, and studying the interaction between the nerve fibers and the tissue.
PMCID: PMC2864331  PMID: 20109446
neurotrophin; transgenic BDNF; viral vector; nerve regeneration; guinea pig; deafness; adenovirus; adeno-associated virus; cochlea; spiral ganglion
23.  Cochlear microphonic potential recorded by transtympanic electrocochleography in normally-hearing and hearing-impaired ears 
The cochlear microphonic is a receptor potential believed to be generated primarily by outer hair cells. Its detection in surface recordings has been considered a distinctive sign of outer hair cell integrity in patients with auditory neuropathy. This report focuses on the results of an analysis performed on cochlear microphonic recorded by transtympanic electrocochleography in response to clicks in 502 subjects with normal hearing threshold or various degrees of hearing impairment, and in 20 patients with auditory neuropathy. Cochlear microphonics recorded in normally-hearing and hearing-impaired ears showed amplitudes decreasing by the elevation of compound action potential Cochlear microphonic responses were clearly detected in ears with profound hearing loss. After separating recordings according to the presence or absence of central nervous system pathology (CNS+ and CNS-, respectively), cochlear microphonic amplitude was significantly higher in CNS+ than in CNS- subjects with normally-hearing ears and at 70 dB nHL compound action potential threshold. Cochlear microphonic responses were detected in all auditory neuropathy patients, with similar amplitudes and thresholds to those calculated for normally-hearing CNS- subjects. Cochlear microphonic duration was significantly higher in auditory neuropathy and normally-hearing CNS+ patients compared to CNS- subjects. Our results show that: 1. cochlear microphonic detection is not a distinctive feature of auditory neuropathy; 2. CNS+ subjects showed enhancement in cochlear microphonic amplitude and duration, possibly due to efferent system dysfunction; 3. long-lasting, high frequency cochlear microphonics with amplitudes comparable to those obtained from CNS- ears were found in auditory neuropathy patients. This could result from a variable combination of afferent compartment lesion, efferent system dysfacilitation and loss of outer hair cells.
PMCID: PMC2639978  PMID: 16886850
Hearing impairment; Auditory neuropathy; CNS disorders; Electrocochleography; Cochlear microphonic potential
24.  Improving the dynamics of responses to amplitude modulated stimuli by modeling inhibitory interneurons in cochlear nucleus 
Conference Proceedings   2007;1:1286-1289.
Amplitude modulation is an important feature of communication sounds. A phenomenological model of the auditory pathway that reproduces amplitude modulation coding from the outer ear to the inferior colliculus is presented. It is based on Hewitt and Meddis’ work. To improve the temporal coding for high level stimuli, high spontaneous rate and low spontaneous rate auditory nerve fibers innervate chopper cells of the cochlear nucleus. Wideband inhibitory interneurons which limit high spontaneous rate fibers connected to chopper units are added in this nucleus. The realistic structure we propose gives results closer to physiological data in terms of synchronization.
PMCID: PMC2147667  PMID: 18002198
25.  Cortical modulation of auditory processing in the midbrain 
In addition to their ascending pathways that originate at the receptor cells, all sensory systems are characterized by extensive descending projections. Although the size of these connections often outweighs those that carry information in the ascending auditory pathway, we still have a relatively poor understanding of the role they play in sensory processing. In the auditory system one of the main corticofugal projections links layer V pyramidal neurons with the inferior colliculus (IC) in the midbrain. All auditory cortical fields contribute to this projection, with the primary areas providing the largest outputs to the IC. In addition to medium and large pyramidal cells in layer V, a variety of cell types in layer VI make a small contribution to the ipsilateral corticocollicular projection. Cortical neurons innervate the three IC subdivisions bilaterally, although the contralateral projection is relatively small. The dorsal and lateral cortices of the IC are the principal targets of corticocollicular axons, but input to the central nucleus has also been described in some studies and is distinctive in its laminar topographic organization. Focal electrical stimulation and inactivation studies have shown that the auditory cortex can modify almost every aspect of the response properties of IC neurons, including their sensitivity to sound frequency, intensity, and location. Along with other descending pathways in the auditory system, the corticocollicular projection appears to continually modulate the processing of acoustical signals at subcortical levels. In particular, there is growing evidence that these circuits play a critical role in the plasticity of neural processing that underlies the effects of learning and experience on auditory perception by enabling changes in cortical response properties to spread to subcortical nuclei.
PMCID: PMC3539853  PMID: 23316140
auditory cortex; inferior colliculus; corticofugal; descending projection; plasticity; sound localization

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