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1.  Refractoriness Enhances Temporal Coding by Auditory Nerve Fibers 
The Journal of Neuroscience  2013;33(18):7681-7690.
A universal property of spiking neurons is refractoriness, a transient decrease in discharge probability immediately following an action potential (spike). The refractory period lasts only one to a few milliseconds, but has the potential to affect temporal coding of acoustic stimuli by auditory neurons, which are capable of submillisecond spike-time precision. Here this possibility was investigated systematically by recording spike times from chicken auditory nerve fibers in vivo while stimulating with repeated pure tones at characteristic frequency. Refractory periods were tightly distributed, with a mean of 1.58 ms. A statistical model was developed to recapitulate each fiber's responses and then used to predict the effect of removing the refractory period on a cell-by-cell basis for two largely independent facets of temporal coding: faithful entrainment of interspike intervals to the stimulus frequency and precise synchronization of spike times to the stimulus phase. The ratio of the refractory period to the stimulus period predicted the impact of refractoriness on entrainment and synchronization. For ratios less than ∼0.9, refractoriness enhanced entrainment and this enhancement was often accompanied by an increase in spike-time precision. At higher ratios, little or no change in entrainment or synchronization was observed. Given the tight distribution of refractory periods, the ability of refractoriness to improve temporal coding is restricted to neurons responding to low-frequency stimuli. Enhanced encoding of low frequencies likely affects sound localization and pitch perception in the auditory system, as well as perception in nonauditory sensory modalities, because all spiking neurons exhibit refractoriness.
PMCID: PMC3865560  PMID: 23637161
2.  Behavioral discrimination of click intensity in cat1 
Avoidance conditioning procedures were used to train cats to discriminate intensity differences between successive clicks. The discriminative behavior was applied in a modified method of adjustment to determine a difference limen (DL) for click intensity. The obtained DLs were consistent within and between subjects, and averaged 4.4 db. This value is greater than previously reported intensity DLs for pure tones in cats.
PMCID: PMC1338705  PMID: 5359627
3.  Otoacoustic emissions in humans, birds, lizards, and frogs: Evidence for multiple generation mechanisms 
Many non-mammalian ears lack physiological features considered integral to the generation of otoacoustic emissions in mammals, including basilar-membrane traveling waves and hair-cell somatic motility. To help elucidate the mechanisms of emission generation, this study systematically measured and compared evoked emissions in all four classes of tetrapod vertebrates using identical stimulus paradigms. Overall emission levels are largest in the lizard and frog species studied and smallest in the chicken. Emission levels in humans, the only examined species with somatic hair cell motility, were intermediate. Both geckos and frogs exhibit substantially higher levels of high-order intermodulation distortion. Stimulus frequency emission phase-gradient delays are longest in humans but are at least 1 ms in all species. Comparisons between stimulus-frequency emission and distortion-product emission phase gradients for low stimulus levels indicate that representatives from all classes except frogs show evidence for two distinct generation mechanisms analogous to the reflection- and distortion-source (i.e., place- and wave-fixed) mechanisms evident in mammals. Despite morphological differences, the results suggest the role of a scaling-symmetric traveling wave in chicken emission generation, similar to that in mammals, and perhaps some analog in the gecko.
PMCID: PMC2562659  PMID: 18500528
OAE; non-mammal; lizard; chicken; frog
4.  The Role of Central Nervous System Plasticity in Tinnitus 
Tinnitus is a vexing disorder of hearing characterized by sound sensations originating in the head without any external stimulation. The specific etiology of these sensations is uncertain but frequently associated with hearing loss. The “neurophysiogical” model of tinnitus has enhanced appreciation of central nervous system (CNS) contributions. The model assumes that plastic changes in the primary and non-primary auditory pathways contribute to tinnitus with the former perhaps sustaining them, and the latter contributing to perceived severity and emotionality. These plastic changes are triggered by peripheral injury, which results in new patterns of brain activity due to anatomic alterations in the connectivity of CNS neurons. These alterations may change the balance between excitatory and inhibitory brain processes, perhaps producing cascades of new neural activity flowing between brainstem and cortex in a self-sustaining manner that produces persistent perceptions of tinnitus. The bases of this model are explored with an attempt to distinguish phenomenological from mechanistic explanations.
Learning outcomes
(1) Readers will learn that the variables associated with the behavioral experience of tinnitus are as complex as the biological variables. (2) Readers will understand what the concept of neuroplastic brain change means, and how it is associated with tinnitus. (3) Readers will learn that there may be no one brain location associated with tinnitus, and it may result from interactions between multiple brain areas. (4) Readers will learn how disinhibition, spontaneous activity, neural synchronization, and tonotopic reorganization may contribute to tinnitus.
PMCID: PMC2083119  PMID: 17418230
Tinnitus; Neuroplasticity; Dorsal Cochlear Nucleus; Inferior Colliculus; Auditory Cortex; Noise Exposure; Salicylate; MRI; PET; Spontaneous Activity; Neural Synchrony; Neural Unmasking
5.  Tonotopic Distribution of Short-Term Adaptation Properties in the Cochlear Nerve of Normal and Acoustically Overexposed Chicks 
Cochlear nerve adaptation is thought to result, at least partially, from the depletion of neurotransmitter stores in hair cells. Recently, neurotransmitter vesicle pools have been identified in chick tall hair cells that might play a role in adaptation. In order to understand better the relationship between adaptation and neurotransmitter release dynamics, short-term adaptation was characterized by using peristimulus time histograms of single-unit activity in the chick cochlear nerve. The adaptation function resulting from 100-ms pure tone stimuli presented at the characteristic frequency, +20 dB relative to threshold, was well described as a single exponential decay process with an average time constant of 18.6 ± 0.8 ms (mean ± SEM). The number of spikes contributed by the adapting part of the response increased tonotopically for characteristic frequencies up to ∼0.8 kHz. Comparison of the adaptation data with known physiological and anatomical hair cell properties suggests that depletion of the readily releasable pool is the basis of short-term adaptation in the chick. With this idea in mind, short-term adaptation was used as a proxy for assessing tall hair cell synaptic function following intense acoustic stimulation. After 48 h of exposure to an intense pure tone, the time constant of short-term adaptation was unaltered, whereas the number of spikes in the adapting component was increased at characteristic frequencies at and above the exposure frequency. These data suggest that the rate of readily releasable pool emptying is unaltered, but the neurotransmitter content of the pool is increased, by exposure to intense sound. The results imply that an increase in readily releasable pool size might be a compensatory mechanism ensuring the strength of the hair cell afferent synapse in the face of ongoing acoustic stress.
PMCID: PMC2538420  PMID: 17200911
hair cell; single unit; auditory; exocytosis; synapse; afferent
6.  Can you hear me now? A genetic model of otitis media with effusion 
Otitis media with effusion (OME) is characterized by the occurrence of fluid in the middle-ear cavity in the absence of any signs of acute ear infection and occurs most frequently in children with auditory or eustachian tube dysfunction. Its chronic form is an important clinical issue for pediatricians and otologists alike. The study by Depreux et al. in this issue of the JCI shows that absence of the transcriptional activator Eya4 in knockout mice results in abnormal structuring of the eustachian tube, thus predisposing these animals to OME (see the related article beginning on page 651). The development of this genetics-based animal model is an important advance for understanding OME and for exploring new avenues of treatment.
PMCID: PMC2213373  PMID: 18219392
7.  Evidence That Rapid Vesicle Replenishment of the Synaptic Ribbon Mediates Recovery from Short-Term Adaptation at the Hair Cell Afferent Synapse 
We have employed both in vitro patch clamp recordings of hair cell synaptic vesicle fusion and in vivo single unit recording of cochlear nerve activity to study, at the same synapse, the time course, control, and physiological significance of readily releasable pool dynamics. Exocytosis of the readily releasable pool was fast, saturating in less than 50 ms, and recovery was also rapid, regaining 95% of its initial amplitude following a 200-ms period of repolarization. Longer depolarizations (greater than 250 ms) yielded a second, slower kinetic component of exocytosis. Both the second component of exocytosis and recovery of the readily releasable pool were blocked by the slow calcium buffer, EGTA. Sound-evoked afferent synaptic activity adapted and recovered with similar time courses as readily releasable pool exhaustion and recovery. Comparison of readily releasable pool amplitude, capture distances of calcium buffers, and number of vesicles tethered to the synaptic ribbon suggested that readily releasable pool dynamics reflect the depletion of release-ready vesicles tethered to the synaptic ribbon and the reloading of the ribbon with vesicles from the cytoplasm. Thus, we submit that rapid recovery of the cochlear hair cell afferent fiber synapse from short-term adaptation depends on the timely replenishment of the synaptic ribbon with vesicles from a cytoplasmic pool. This apparent rapid reloading of the synaptic ribbon with vesicles underscores important functional differences between synaptic ribbons in the auditory and visual systems.
PMCID: PMC2504567  PMID: 15675002
hair cell; exocytosis; adaptation; synaptic ribbon; synaptic vesicle; cochlea

Results 1-7 (7)