Effects of centrifugal pathways on responses of cochlear nucleus neurons to signals in noise

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    The medial olivocochlear (MOC) system, which originates in the brainstem and projects to the outer hair cells in the cochlea, is thought to be involved in improving signal detection in noisy backgrounds. This proposition arises from the observation that the input-output functions of auditory primary afferent fibres to pure tones recorded in a continuous background noise are unmasked by MOC activation, improving the dynamic range, and is supported by both animal and human behavioural experiments. However, it is not known how the unmasking effects observed in the cochlea are translated into higher auditory brain centres, such as the cochlear nucleus, where intrinsic circuitry can potentially modulate any effect. In this study we have investigated the effects of continuous background noise without and with MOC system activation, on responses of different neuron types in the ventral cochlear nucleus of the guinea pig. Results show that the unmasking effects of MOC system activation on tone responses in continuous background noise are present in the cochlear nucleus. These unmasking effects manifest themselves as decompression of input-output functions as well as an improved slope, which results in an improvement in intensity discrimination of the tones. The data show, however, that the strength of the unmasking effects of MOC system activation varies between the different neuronal types. Unmasking was not detected in onset chopper neurons despite its demonstrable presence in other neuronal types in the same animals. These observations may reflect the level of involvement of different neuronal types in intensity discrimination.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)702-714
    JournalEuropean Journal of Neuroscience
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - 2008


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