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Auditory response properties in the superior paraolivary nucleus of the gerbil

J Neurophysiol 87(6): 2915-28

Authors/Editors: Behrend O
Brand A
Kapfer C
Grothe B
Publication Date: 2002
Type of Publication: Journal Articles 2001 - 2018
The ascending auditory pathway is characterized by parallel processing. At the brain stem level, several structures are involved that are known to serve different well-defined functions. However, the function of one prominent brain stem nucleus, the rodent superior paraolivary nucleus (SPN) and its putative homologue in other mammals, the dorsomedial periolivary nucleus, is unknown. Based on extracellular recordings from anesthetized gerbils, we tested the role of the SPN in sound localization and temporal processing. First, the existence of binaural inputs indicates that the SPN might be involved in sound localization. Although almost half of the neurons exhibited binaural interactions (most of them excited from both sides), effects of interaural time and intensity differences (ITD; IID) were weak and ambiguous. Thus a straightforward function of SPN in sound localization appears to be implausible. Second, inputs from octopus and multipolar/stellate cells of the cochlear nucleus and from principal cells of the medial nucleus of the trapezoid body could relate to precise temporal processing in the SPN. Based on discharge types, two subpopulations of SPN cells were observed: about 60% of the neurons responded to pure tones with sustained discharges, with irregular spike patterns and no phase-locking. Only four neurons showed a regular spike pattern ("chopping"). About 40% of the neurons responded with phasic ON or OFF discharges. Average first spike latency observed in neurons with sustained discharges was significantly shorter than that of ON responders, but had a considerably higher trial-to-trial variation ("jitter"). A subpopulation of ON responders showed a jitter of less than +/-0.1 ms. Most neurons (66%) responded to sinusoidally amplitude-modulated sounds (SAM) with an ongoing response, phase-locked to the stimulus envelope. Again, ON responders showed a significantly higher temporal precision in the phase-locked discharge compared with the sustained responders. High variability was observed among spike-rate-based modulation transfer functions. Histologically, a massive concentration of cytochemical markers for glycinergic input to SPN cells was demonstrated. Application of glycine or its blockade revealed profound effects of glycinergic inhibition on the auditory responses of SPN neurons. The existence of at least two subpopulations of neurons is in line with different subsets of SPN cells that can be distinguished morphologically. One temporally less precise population might modulate the processing of its target structures by providing a rather diffuse inhibition. In contrast, precise ON responders might provide a short, initial inhibitory pulse to its targets.

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