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Physiology and Anatomy of Neurons in the Medial Superior Olive (MSO) of the Mouse

J Neurophysiol 116: 2676-2688. doi: 10.1152/jn.00523.2016. Epub 2016 Sep 21.

Authors/Editors: Fischl MJ
Burger RM
Schmidt-Pauly M
Alexandrova O
Sinclair JL
Grothe B
Forsythe ID
Kopp-Scheinpflug C
Publication Date: 2016
Type of Publication: Journal Articles 2010 - 2019


In mammals with good low frequency hearing, the medial superior olive (MSO) computes sound location by comparing differences in the arrival time of a sound at each ear, called interaural time disparities (ITDs). Low frequency sounds are not reflected by the head and therefore level differences and spectral cues are minimal or absent leaving ITDs as the only cue for sound localization. Although mammals with high frequency hearing and small heads (e.g. bats, mice) barely experience ITDs, the MSO is still present in these animals. Yet, aside from studies in specialized bats, in which the MSO appears to serve functions other than ITD processing, it has not been studied in small mammals that do not hear low frequencies. Here we describe neurons in the mouse brainstem that share prominent anatomical, morphological and physiological properties with the MSO in species known to use ITDs for sound localization. However, these neurons also deviate in some important aspects from the typical MSO, including a less refined arrangement of cell bodies, dendrites and synaptic inputs. In vitro, the vast majority of neurons exhibited a single, onset action potential in response to suprathreshold depolarization. This spiking pattern is typical of MSO neurons in other species and is generated from a complement of Kv1, Kv3 and IH currents. In vivo, mouse MSO neurons show bilateral excitatory and inhibitory tuning as well as an improvement in temporal acuity of spiking during bilateral acoustic stimulation. The combination of classical MSO features like those observed in gerbils combined with more unique features similar to those observed in bats and opossums make the mouse MSO an interesting model for exploiting genetic tools to test hypotheses about the molecular mechanisms and evolution of ITD processing.

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