Why do cats need a dorsal cochlear nucleus?

The dorsal cochlear nucleus (DCN), one of the three major divisions of the cochlear nucleus (CN), has a complex internal structure, multiple inputs (some of them non-auditory), and multiple output pathways. Response properties of DCN units are accordingly complex. The principal cells of the DCN have type IV response characteristics, characterized by relatively high levels of spontaneous activity and inhibition by high level best frequency (BF) tones. We showed previously that type IV units are inhibited by two separate inhibitory mechanisms, one of them sensitive to narrow band stimuli and the other to wide band stimuli. One result of the wide band inhibition of type IV units is their sensitivity to spectral notches in the region of their BF – stimuli with such notches inhibit type IV units. The source of the narrow band inhibition is an interneuron in the DCN which has type II response characteristics – it does not have spontaneous activity and is strongly activated by BF tones. The neurons giving rise to type II responses are presumably vertical cells, which also project to other divisions of the CN. From anatomical studies, it is known that type IV units are also inhibited by a third system, which carries non-auditory information; movements of the pinna inhibit type IV units through this system. We hypothesize that type IV units signal important events to the auditory system by being inhibited. Such events are either auditory, e.g. spectral maxima and minima, or non-auditory, such as the somatosensory inputs from the pinnae. We hypothesize that the projection of type II units to the ventral cochlear nucleus (VCN) plays a role in reducing the effects of spectral notches introduced by the pinnae in the core auditory pathway. We conclude that although the DCN lies close to the auditory periphery, it already performs sophisticated tasks of auditory processing.

Authors: Nelken I, Young ED.
Year of publication: 1996
Journal: J Basic Clin Physiol Pharmacol. 1996;7(3):199-220.

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