The Role of the Mammalian Cochlear Nuclei in Hearing
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In the cochlear nuclei, acoustic information passes from auditory nerve fibers to groups of neurons that form parallel ascending pathways. Each pathway takes a separate route through the brain stem to the midbrain and performs a separate integrative task. Neurons in some pathways are specialized for encoding timing information. Others are specialized to detect small modulatory currents that can shift their dynamic range. The synapses, too, are specialized. Consistent with the need to hear sounds independent of previous acoustic history, synapses in the ventral cochlear nucleus are robust, unchanging over a wide range of conditions. Plasticity is strong, however, in the cerebellar-like dorsal cochlear nucleus. We are examining mutant mice that have lost part or all of their hearing to understand how the loss of hearing affects the function of the pathways through the cochlear nuclei.
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