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Neural response properties that typify primary sensory afferents are critical to fully appreciate because they establish and, ultimately represent, the fundamental coding design used for higher-level processing. Studies illuminating the center-surround receptive fields of retinal ganglion cells, for example, were ground-breaking because they determined the foundation of visual form detection. For the auditory system, a basic organizing principle of the spiral ganglion afferents is their extensive electrophysiological heterogeneity establishing diverse intrinsic firing properties in neurons throughout the spiral ganglion. Moreover, these neurons display an impressively large array of neurotransmitter receptor types that are responsive to efferent feedback. Thus, electrophysiological diversity and its neuromodulation are a fundamental encoding mechanism contributed by the primary afferents in the auditory system. To place these features into context, we evaluated the effects of hyperpolarization and cAMP on threshold level as indicators of overall afferent responsiveness in CBA/CaJ mice of either sex. Hyperpolarization modified threshold gradients such that distinct voltage protocols could shift the relationship between sensitivity and stimulus input to reshape resolution. This resulted in an "accordion effect" that appeared to stretch, compress, or maintain responsivity across the gradient of afferent thresholds. cAMP targeted threshold and kinetic shifts to rapidly adapting neurons, thus revealing multiple cochleotopic properties that could potentially be independently regulated. These examples of dynamic heterogeneity in primary auditory afferents not only have the capacity to shift the range, sensitivity, and resolution, but to do so in a coordinated manner that appears to orchestrate changes with a seemingly unlimited repertoire.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT How do we discriminate the more nuanced qualities of the sound around us? Beyond the basics of pitch and loudness, aspects, such as pattern, distance, velocity, and location, are all attributes that must be used to encode acoustic sensations effectively. While higher-level processing is required for perception, it would not be unexpected if the primary auditory afferents optimized receptor input to expedite neural encoding. The findings reported herein are consistent with this design. Neuromodulation compressed, expanded, shifted, or realigned intrinsic electrophysiological heterogeneity to alter neuronal responses selectively and dynamically. This suggests that diverse spiral ganglion phenotypes provide a rich substrate to support an almost limitless array of coding strategies within the first neural element of the auditory pathway. Copyright © 2021 the authors.


Jeffrey Parra-Munevar, Charles E Morse, Mark R Plummer, Robin L Davis. Dynamic Heterogeneity Shapes Patterns of Spiral Ganglion Activity. The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience. 2021 Oct 27;41(43):8859-8875

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PMID: 34551939

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