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The Journal of comparative neurology

Urocortin-expressing olivocochlear neurons exhibit tonotopic and developmental changes in the auditory brainstem and in the innervation of the cochlea.


PMID 21491428

Abstract

The mammalian cochlea is under direct control of two groups of cholinergic auditory brainstem neurons, the medial and the lateral olivocochlear neurons. The former modulate the electromechanical amplification in outer hair cells and the latter the transduction of inner hair cells to auditory nerve fibers. The lateral olivocochlear neurons express not only acetylcholine but a variety of co-transmitters including urocortin, which is known to regulate homeostatic responses related to stress; it may also be related to the ontogeny of hearing as well as the generation of hearing disorders. In the present study, we investigated the distribution of urocortin-expressing lateral olivocochlear neurons and their connectivity and distribution of synaptic terminals in the cochlea of juvenile and adult gerbils. In contrast to most other rodents, the gerbil's audiogram covers low frequencies similar to humans, although their communication calls are exclusively in the high-frequency domain. We confirm that in the auditory brainstem urocortin is expressed exclusively in neurons within the lateral superior olive and their synaptic terminals in the cochlea. Moreover, we show that in adult gerbils urocortin expression is restricted to the medial, high-frequency processing, limb of the lateral superior olive and to the mid and basal parts of the cochlea. The same pattern is present in juvenile gerbils shortly before hearing onset (P 9) but transiently disappears after hearing onset, when urocortin is also expressed in low-frequency processing regions. These results suggest a possible role of urocortin in late cochlear development and in the processing of social calls in adult animals.