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1.  Pre-target axon sorting in the avian auditory brainstem 
The Journal of comparative neurology  2013;521(10):2310-2320.
Topographic organization of neurons is a hallmark of brain structure. The establishment of the connections between topographically organized brain regions has attracted much experimental attention and it is widely accepted that molecular cues guide outgrowing axons to their targets in order to construct topographic maps. In a number of systems afferent axons are organized topographically along their trajectory as well and it has been suggested that this pre-target sorting contributes to map formation. Neurons in auditory regions of the brain are arranged according to their best frequency (BF), the sound frequency they respond to optimally. This BF changes predictably with position along the so-called tonotopic axis. In the avian auditory brainstem, the tonotopic organization of the second- and third-order auditory neurons in nucleus magnocellularis (NM) and nucleus laminaris (NL) has been well described. In this study we examine whether the decussating NM axons forming the crossed dorsal cochlear tract (XDCT) and innervating the contralateral NL are arranged in a systematic manner. We electroporated dye into cells in different frequency regions of NM to anterogradely label their axons in the XDCT. The placement of dye in NM was compared to the location of labeled axons in XDCT. Our results show that NM axons in XDCT are organized in a precise tonotopic manner along the rostrocaudal axis, spanning over the entire rostrocaudal extent of both the origin and target nuclei. We propose that in the avian auditory brainstem, this pre-target axon sorting contributes to tonotopic map formation in NL.
doi:10.1002/cne.23287
PMCID: PMC3619017  PMID: 23239056
axon topography; pre-target axon sorting; auditory system; tonotopic organization; sound localization
2.  Astrocyte-Secreted Factors Modulate the Developmental Distribution of Inhibitory Synapses in Nucleus Laminaris of the Avian Auditory Brainstem 
The Journal of comparative neurology  2012;520(6):1262-1277.
Nucleus laminaris (NL) neurons in the avian auditory brainstem are coincidence detectors necessary for the computation of interaural time differences used in sound localization. In addition to their excitatory inputs from nucleus magnocellularis, NL neurons receive inhibitory inputs from the superior olivary nucleus (SON) that greatly improve coincidence detection in mature animals. The mechanisms that establish mature distributions of inhibitory inputs to NL are not known. We used the vesicular GABA transporter (VGAT) as a marker for inhibitory presynaptic terminals to study the development of inhibitory inputs to NL between embryonic day 9 (E9) and E17. VGAT immunofluorescent puncta were first seen sparsely in NL at E9. The density of VGAT puncta increased with development, first within the ventral NL neuropil region and subsequently throughout both the ventral and dorsal dendritic neuropil, with significantly fewer terminals in the cell body region. A large increase in density occurred between E13–15 and E16–17, at a developmental stage when astrocytes that express glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP) become mature. We cultured E13 brainstem slices together with astrocyte-conditioned medium (ACM) obtained from E16 brainstems and found that ACM, but not control medium, increased the density of VGAT puncta. This increase was similar to that observed during normal development. Astrocyte-secreted factors interact with the terminal ends of SON axons to increase the number of GABAergic terminals. These data suggest that factors secreted from GFAP-positive astrocytes promote maturation of inhibitory pathways in the auditory brainstem.
doi:10.1002/cne.22786
PMCID: PMC3926803  PMID: 22020566
astrocytes; inhibitory synapses; auditory brainstem; nucleus laminaris; synaptogenesis; superior olivary nucleus
3.  A Simple Method for Multi-Day Imaging of Slice Cultures 
The organotypic slice culture (Stoppini et al., 1991) has become the method of choice to answer a variety of questions in neuroscience. For many experiments however, it would be beneficial to image or manipulate a slice culture repeatedly, for example over the course of many days.
We prepared organotypic slice cultures of the auditory brainstem of P3 and P4 mice and kept them in vitro for up to 4 weeks. Single cells in the auditory brainstem were transfected with plasmids expressing fluorescent proteins by way of electroporation (Haas et al., 2001). The culture was then placed in a chamber perfused with oxygenated ACSF and the labeled cell imaged with an inverted wide-field microscope repeatedly for multiple days, recording several time-points per day, before returning the slice to the incubator.
We describe a simple method to image a slice culture preparation over to the course of multiple days and over many continuous hours, without noticeable damage to the tissue or photobleaching. Our method employs a simple, inexpensive custom-built insulator constructed around the microscope to maintain controlled temperature, and uses a perfusion chamber as used for in vitro slice recordings.
doi:10.1002/jemt.20750
PMCID: PMC2797827  PMID: 19565635
slice culture; single-cell gene electroporation; multi-day imaging
4.  Transgenic Quail as a Model for Research in the Avian Nervous System – A Comparative Study of the Auditory Brainstem 
Research performed on transgenic animals has led to numerous advances in biological research. However, using traditional retroviral methods to generate transgenic avian research models has proven problematic. As a result, experiments aimed at genetic manipulations on birds remained difficult for this popular research tool. Recently, lentiviral methods have enabled production of transgenic birds, including a transgenic Japanese quail (Coturnix coturnix japonica) line showing neuronal-specificity and stable expression of eGFP across generations (termed here as GFP quail). To test whether the GFP quail may serve as a viable alternative to the popular chicken model system, with the additional benefit of gene manipulation, we compared the development, organization, structure and function of a specific neuronal circuit in chicken (Gallus gallus domesticus) to that of the GFP quail. This study focuses on a well-defined avian brain region, the principal nuclei of the sound localization circuit in the auditory brainstem, nucleus magnocellularis (NM) and nucleus laminaris (NL). Our results demonstrate that structural and functional properties of NM and NL neurons in the GFP quail, as well as their dynamic properties in response to changes in the environment, are nearly identical to those in chickens. These similarities demonstrate that the GFP quail, as well as other transgenic quail lines, can serve as an attractive avian model system, with the advantage of being able to build on the wealth of information already available from the chicken.
doi:10.1002/cne.23187
PMCID: PMC3488602  PMID: 22806400
transgenic quail; auditory brainstem
5.  Mechanisms for Adjusting Interaural Time Differences to Achieve Binaural Coincidence Detection 
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.
doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3464-09.2010
PMCID: PMC2822993  PMID: 20053889
Sound; Localization; Auditory; Brainstem; Axon; Conduction; Velocity
6.  Afferent Deprivation Elicits a Transcriptional Response Associated with Neuronal Survival After a Critical Period in the Mouse Cochlear Nucleus 
The mechanisms underlying enhanced plasticity of synaptic connections and susceptibilities to manipulations of afferent activity in developing sensory systems are not well understood. One example is the rapid and dramatic neuron death that occurs after removal of afferent input to the cochlear nucleus (CN) of young mammals and birds. The molecular basis of this critical period of neuronal vulnerability and the transition to survival independent of afferent input remains to be defined. Here we used microarray analyses, real time RT PCR, and immunohistochemistry of the mouse CN to show that deafferentation results in strikingly different sets of regulated genes in vulnerable (postnatal day (P) 7) and invulnerable (P21) CN. An unexpectedly large set of immune-related genes was induced by afferent deprivation after the critical period, which corresponded with glial proliferation over the same time frame. Apoptotic gene expression was not highly regulated in the vulnerable CN after afferent deprivation but, surprisingly, did increase after deafferentation at P21, when all neurons ultimately survive. Pharmacological activity blockade in the 8th nerve mimicked afferent deprivation for only a subset of the afferent deprivation regulated genes, indicating the presence of an additional factor not dependent on action potential-mediated signaling that is also responsible for transcriptional changes. Overall, our results suggest that the cell death machinery during this critical period is mainly constitutive, whereas after the critical period neuronal survival could be actively promoted by both constitutive and induced gene expression.
doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2697-08.2008
PMCID: PMC2585504  PMID: 18945907
microarray; critical period; cochlear nucleus; activity-dependent; apoptosis; deafferentation; stability

Results 1-6 (6)