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1.  Hearing Loss Raises Excitability in the Auditory Cortex 
Developmental hearing impairments compromise sound discrimination, speech acquisition, and cognitive function; however, the adjustments of functional properties in the primary auditory cortex (A1) remain unknown. We induced sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL) in developing gerbils and then reared the animals for several days. The intrinsic membrane and synaptic properties of layer 2/3 pyramidal neurons were subsequently examined in a thalamocortical brain slice preparation with whole-cell recordings and electron microscopic immunocytochemistry. SNHL neurons displayed a depolarized resting membrane potential, an increased input resistance, and a higher incidence of sustained firing. They also exhibited significantly larger thalamocortically and intracortically evoked excitatory synaptic responses, including a greater susceptibility to the NMDA receptor antagonist AP-5 and the NR2B subunit antagonist ifenprodil. This correlated with an increase in NR2B labeling of asymmetric synapses, as visualized ultrastructurally. Furthermore, decreased frequency and increased amplitude of miniature EPSCs (mEPSCs) in SNHL neurons suggest that a decline in presynaptic release properties is compensated by an increased excitatory response. To verify that the increased thalamocortical excitation was elicited by putative monosynaptic connections, minimum amplitude ventral medial geniculate nucleus-evoked EPSCs were recorded. These minimum-evoked responses were of larger amplitude, and the NMDAergic currents were also larger and longer in SNHL neurons. These findings were supported by significantly longer AP-5-sensitive durations and larger amplitudes of mEPSCs. Last, the amplitudes of intracortically evoked monosynaptic and polysynaptic GABAergic inhibitory synaptic responses were significantly smaller in SNHL neurons. These alterations in cellular properties after deafness reflect an attempt by A1 to sustain an operative level of cortical excitability that may involve homeostatic mechanisms.
PMCID: PMC1764814  PMID: 15829643
homeostasis; synaptic plasticity; GABAA; NMDA receptor; mEPSC; disuse
2.  Hearing Loss Prevents the Maturation of GABAergic Transmission in the Auditory Cortex 
Cerebral Cortex (New York, NY)  2008;18(9):2098-2108.
Inhibitory neurotransmission is a critical determinant of neuronal network gain and dynamic range, suggesting that network properties are shaped by activity during development. A previous study demonstrated that sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL) in gerbils leads to smaller inhibitory potentials in L2/3 pyramidal neurons in the thalamorecipient auditory cortex, ACx. Here, we explored the mechanisms that account for proper maturation of γ-amino butyric acid (GABA)ergic transmission. SNHL was induced at postnatal day (P) 10, and whole-cell voltage-clamp recordings were obtained from layer 2/3 pyramidal neurons in thalamocortical slices at P16–19. SNHL led to an increase in the frequency of GABAzine-sensitive (antagonist) spontaneous (s) and miniature (m) inhibitory postsynaptic currents (IPSCs), accompanied by diminished amplitudes and longer durations. Consistent with this, the amplitudes of minimum-evoked IPSCs were also reduced while their durations were longer. The α1- and β2/3 subunit–specific agonists zolpidem and loreclezole increased control but not SNHL sIPSC durations. To test whether SNHL affected the maturation of GABAergic transmission, sIPSCs were recorded at P10. These sIPSCs resembled the long SNHL sIPSCs. Furthermore, zolpidem and loreclezole were ineffective in increasing their durations. Together, these data strongly suggest that the presynaptic release properties and expression of key postsynaptic GABAA receptor subunits are coregulated by hearing.
PMCID: PMC2517109  PMID: 18222937
α1 and β2/3 subunits; auditory cortex; development; GABAA receptor; hearing impairment
3.  Spontaneous activity in the developing gerbil auditory cortex in vivo involves GABAergic transmission 
Neuroscience  2012;226:130-144.
A salient feature of the developing brain is that spontaneous oscillations (SOs) and waves may influence the emergence of synaptic connections. Whilst gamma-amino butyric acid (GABA) produces depolarization and may support SOs in the neurons of developing rodents, it elicits hyperpolarization and diminishes SOs in developing gerbil auditory cortex (ACx). Therefore, we asked whether SOs exist in developing gerbil ACx in vivo and if GABAergic involvement can be manipulated. In vivo extracellular recordings in P3-5 ACx revealed SOs with longer burst durations and shorter inter-event intervals compared to ACx SOs in slices. ACx was then validated by gross anatomical features and lesions created at the in vivo recording site that corresponded with the electrophysiological coordinates of thalamorecipient ACx in slices. Further, NeuroVue Red, a lipophilic dye loaded at the in vivo recording sites, stained anatomically identifiable fiber tracks between the ACx and the auditory thalamus, medial geniculate body (MG). Separately, to chronically perturb GABAergic role in SOs, P2-5 pups were administered daily with GABAA receptor blocker, bicuculline (BIC). We then recorded from P14-17 ACx neurons in slices generated after hearing onset. ACx neurons from BIC-administered pups exhibited spontaneous action potentials in contrast to subthreshold synaptic potentials in neurons from sham-injected animals. Finally, to elucidate whether the gap junction blocker mefloquine (MFQ) previously shown to dampen ACx SOs in slices affected GABAergic transmission, MFQ was acutely applied in P3-5 slices while spontaneous inhibitory postsynaptic currents (sIPSCs) were recorded. Whereas MFQ increased the amplitude and frequency of sIPSCs in ACx neurons, the broad-spectrum gap junction blocker carbenoxolone decreased sIPSC amplitudes only. Together, we show that P2-5 gerbil ACx can endogenously generate SOs in vivo. Persistence of activity in ACx in P14-17 slices from pups administered with BIC at P2-5 implies that inhibitory GABAergic activity linked with gap-junction participates in the maturation of ACx.
PMCID: PMC4106364  PMID: 22986170
Spontaneous activity; auditory; inhibition; GABA; connexin
4.  Developmental expression of inhibitory synaptic long-term potentiation in the lateral superior olive 
Principal neurons of the lateral superior olivary nucleus (LSO) respond selectively to interaural level differences (ILD). To perform this computation, LSO neurons integrate excitatory synaptic drive from the ipsilateral ear with inhibitory synaptic drive from the contralateral ear via the medial nucleus of the trapezoid body (MNTB). Previous research demonstrated that inhibitory terminals from the MNTB to the LSO are eliminated during development. Furthermore, MNTB synapses display an activity- and age-dependent long-term depression (iLTD) that may contribute to inhibitory synapse elimination. However, inhibitory synapses that are stabilized become stronger. Here, we asked whether MNTB synapses displayed activity-dependent strengthening. Whole-cell recordings were obtained from LSO neurons in a gerbil brain slice before and after hearing onset. The inhibitory MNTB afferents were stimulated at a low rate, similar to spontaneous discharge rates observed in vivo. The MNTB-evoked inhibitory responses were strengthened by 40–300% when synaptic activity was coupled with postsynaptic membrane depolarization, exogenous glutamate application, or activation of ipsilateral excitatory synaptic inputs. This inhibitory long-term potentiation (iLTP) was associated with increased spontaneous inhibitory postsynaptic current (IPSC) amplitude and frequency. One hour after iLTP induction, IPSCs could not be de-potentiated by the MNTB stimulation pattern that induces iLTD in control slices. iLTP could only be induced after hearing onset (>P12), and was blocked in the presence of a GABAB receptor antagonist. Together, these results suggest a developmental period during which the induction of iLTP depends on the conjoint activation of GABAB receptors and postsynaptic depolarization. We propose that iLTP may support stabilization of un-pruned MNTB connections and contribute to the emergence of ILD processing in the mature LSO.
PMCID: PMC4063273  PMID: 24994969
GABA; glycine; GABAB; synaptic potentiation; plasticity; LSO
5.  Rescue of Inhibitory Synapse Strength following Developmental Hearing Loss 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(1):e53438.
Inhibitory synapse dysfunction may contribute to many developmental brain disorders, including the secondary consequences of sensory deprivation. In fact, developmental hearing loss leads to a profound reduction in the strength of inhibitory postsynaptic currents (IPSCs) in the auditory cortex, and this deficit persists into adulthood. This finding is consistent with the general theory that the emergence of mature synaptic properties requires activity during development. Therefore, we tested the prediction that inhibitory strength can be restored following developmental hearing loss by boosting GABAergic transmission in vivo. Conductive or sensorineural hearing loss was induced surgically in gerbils prior to hearing onset and GABA agonists were then administered for one week. IPSCs were subsequently recorded from pyramidal neurons in a thalamocortical brain slice preparation. Administration of either a GABAA receptor a1 subunit specific agonist (zolpidem), or a selective GABA reuptake inhibitor (SGRI), rescued IPSC amplitude in hearing loss animals. Furthermore, this restoration persisted in adults, long after drug treatment ended. In contrast, a GABAB receptor agonist baclofen did not restore inhibitory strength. IPSCs could also be restored when SGRI administration began 3 weeks after sensory deprivation. Together, these results demonstrate long-lasting restoration of cortical inhibitory strength in the absence of normal experience. This suggests that in vivo GABAA receptor activation is sufficient to promote maturation, and this principle may extend to other developmental disorders associated with diminished inhibitory function.
PMCID: PMC3543446  PMID: 23326429
6.  Developmental plasticity of auditory cortical inhibitory synapses 
Hearing research  2011;279(1-2):140-148.
Functional inhibitory synapses form in auditory cortex well before the onset of normal hearing. However, their properties change dramatically during normal development, and many of these maturational events are delayed by hearing loss. Here, we review recent findings on the developmental plasticity of inhibitory synapse strength, kinetics, and GABAA receptor localization in auditory cortex. Although hearing loss generally leads to a reduction of inhibitory strength, this depends on the type of presynaptic interneuron. Furthermore, plasticity of inhibitory synapses also depends on the postsynaptic target. Hearing loss leads reduced GABAA receptor localization to the membrane of excitatory, but not inhibitory neurons. A reduction in normal activity in development can also affect the use-dependent plasticity of inhibitory synapses. Even moderate hearing loss can disrupt inhibitory short- and long-term synaptic plasticity. Thus, the cortex did not compensate for the loss of inhibition in the brainstem, but rather exacerbated the response to hearing loss by further reducing inhibitory drive. Together, these results demonstrate that inhibitory synapses are exceptionally dynamic during development, and deafness-induced perturbation of inhibitory properties may have a profound impact on auditory processing.
PMCID: PMC3135718  PMID: 21463668
development; deafness; inhibitory interneuron; short-term depression; long-term potentiation; auditory cortex
7.  Presynaptic GABAB Receptors Regulate Experience-Dependent Development of Inhibitory Short-Term Plasticity 
The Journal of Neuroscience  2010;30(7):2716-2727.
Short-term changes in synaptic gain support information processing throughout the CNS, yet we know little about the developmental regulation of such plasticity. Here we report that auditory experience is necessary for the normal maturation of synaptic inhibitory short-term plasticity (iSTP) in the auditory cortex, and that presynaptic GABAB receptors regulate this development. Moderate or severe hearing loss was induced in gerbils, and iSTP was characterized by measuring inhibitory synaptic current amplitudes in response to repetitive stimuli. We reveal a profound developmental shift of iSTP from depressing to facilitating after the onset of hearing. Even moderate hearing loss prevented this shift. This iSTP change was mediated by a specific class of inhibitory interneurons, the low-threshold spiking cells. Further, using paired recordings, we reveal that presynaptic GABAB receptors at interneuron-pyramidal connections regulate iSTP in an experience-dependent manner. This novel synaptic mechanism may support the emergence of mature temporal processing in the auditory cortex.
PMCID: PMC3842473  PMID: 20164356
8.  Normal hearing is required for the emergence of long-lasting inhibitory potentiation in cortex 
Long-term synaptic plasticity is a putative mechanism for learning in adults. However, there is little understanding of how synaptic plasticity mechanisms develop or whether their maturation depends on experience. Since inhibitory synapses are particularly malleable to sensory stimulation, long-lasting potentiation of inhibitory synapses was characterized in auditory thalamocortical slices. Intracortical high frequency electrical stimulation led to a 67% increase in inhibitory synaptic currents. In the absence of stimulation, inhibitory potentiation was induced by a brief exposure to exogenous BDNF. BDNF exposure occluded any further potentiation by high frequency afferent stimulation, suggesting that BDNF signaling is sufficient to account for inhibitory potentiation. Moreover, inhibitory potentiation was reduced significantly by extracellular application of a BDNF scavenger or by intracellular blockade of BDNF receptor (TrkB) signaling. In contrast, glutamatergic or GABAergic antagonists did not prevent the induction of inhibitory potentiation. Since BDNF and TrkB expression are influenced strongly by activity, we predicted that inhibitory potentiation would be diminished by manipulations that decrease central auditory activity, such as hearing loss. Two forms of hearing loss were examined: conductive hearing loss in which the cochleae are not damaged or sensorineural hearing loss in which both cochleae are removed. Both forms of hearing loss were found to reduce significantly the magnitude of inhibitory potentiation. These data indicate that early experience is necessary for the normal development of BDNF-mediated long-lasting inhibitory potentiation, which may be associated with perceptual deficits at later ages.
PMCID: PMC2823134  PMID: 20053914
hearing loss; inhibitory synaptic transmission; long-term potentiation; TrkB receptor; BDNF; auditory cortex
9.  Asymmetric Excitatory Synaptic Dynamics Underlie Interaural Time Difference Processing in the Auditory System 
PLoS Biology  2010;8(6):e1000406.
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.
Author Summary
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.
PMCID: PMC2893945  PMID: 20613857
10.  Developmental hearing loss disrupts synaptic inhibition: implications for auditory processing 
Future neurology  2009;4(3):331-349.
Hearing loss during development leads to central deficits that persist even after the restoration of peripheral function. One key class of deficits is due to changes in central inhibitory synapses, which play a fundamental role in all aspects of auditory processing. This review focuses on the anatomical and physiological alterations of inhibitory connections at several regions within the central auditory pathway following hearing loss. Such aberrant inhibitory synaptic function may be linked to deficits in encoding binaural and spectral cues. Understanding the cellular changes that occur at inhibitory synapses following hearing loss may provide specific loci that can be targeted to improve function.
PMCID: PMC2716048  PMID: 20161214
auditory cortex; deafness; development; excitability; frequency tuning; inferior colliculus; LSO; MSO; sound localization
11.  Hearing Loss Alters the Subcellular Distribution of Presynaptic GAD and Postsynaptic GABAA Receptors in the Auditory Cortex 
Cerebral Cortex (New York, NY)  2008;18(12):2855-2867.
We have shown previously that auditory experience regulates the maturation of excitatory synapses in the auditory cortex (ACx). In this study, we used electron microscopic immunocytochemistry to determine whether the heightened excitability of the ACx following neonatal sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL) also involves pre- or postsynaptic alterations of GABAergic synapses. SNHL was induced in gerbils just prior to the onset of hearing (postnatal day 10). At P17, the gamma-aminobutyri acid type A (GABAA) receptor's β2/3-subunit (GABAAβ2/3) clusters residing at plasma membranes in layers 2/3 of ACx was reduced significantly in size (P < 0.05) and number (P < 0.005), whereas the overall number of immunoreactive puncta (intracellular + plasmalemmal) remained unchanged. The reduction of GABAAβ2/3 was observed along perikaryal plasma membranes of excitatory neurons but not of GABAergic interneurons. This cell-specific change can contribute to the enhanced excitability of SNHL ACx. Presynaptically, GABAergic axon terminals were significantly larger but less numerous and contained 47% greater density of glutamic acid decarboxylase immunoreactivity (P < 0.05). This suggests that GABA synthesis may be upregulated by a retrograde signal arising from lowered levels of postsynaptic GABAAR. Thus, both, the pre- and postsynaptic sides of inhibitory synapses that form upon pyramidal neurons of the ACx are regulated by neonatal auditory experience.
PMCID: PMC2583158  PMID: 18403398
β2/3 subunits; deafness; development; electron microscopy; immunocytochemistry

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