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Sound-evoked activity influences myelination of brainstem axons in the trapezoid body

J Neurosci pii: 3728-16. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3728-16.2017.

Authors/Editors: Sinclair JL
Fischl M
Alexandrova O
Heß M
Grothe B
Leibold C
Kopp-Scheinpflug C
Publication Date: 2017
Type of Publication: Journal Articles 2001 - 2017


Plasticity of myelination represents a mechanism to tune the flow of information by balancing functional requirements with metabolic and spatial constraints. The auditory system is heavily myelinated and operates at the upper limits of action potential generation frequency and speed observed in the mammalian CNS. This study aimed to characterize the development of myelin within the trapezoid body, a central auditory fiber tract, and determine the influence sensory experience has on this process in mice of both sexes. We find that in vitro conduction speed doubles following hearing onset and the ability to support high frequency firing increases concurrently. Also in this time, the diameter of trapezoid body axons and the thickness of myelin double, reaching mature-like thickness between 25-35 days of age. Earplugs were used to induce approximately 50dB elevation in auditory thresholds. If introduced at hearing onset, trapezoid body fibers developed thinner axons and myelin than age-matched controls. If plugged during adulthood, the thickest trapezoid body fibers also showed a decrease in myelin. These data demonstrate the need for sensory activity in both development and maintenance of myelin and have important implications in the study of myelin plasticity and how this could relate to sensorineural hearing loss following peripheral impairment.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENTThe auditory system has many mechanisms to maximize the dynamic range of its afferent fibers, which operate at the physiological limit of action potential generation, precision and speed. In this study we demonstrate for the first time that changes in peripheral activity modifies the thickness of myelin in sensory neurons, not only in development but also in mature animals. The current study suggests that changes in CNS myelination occur as a downstream mechanism following peripheral deficit. Given the required submillisecond temporal precision for binaural auditory processing, reduced myelination might augment sensorineural hearing impairment.

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