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Audiol Neurootol. 1999 Nov-Dec;4(6):311-25.

The human olivocochlear system: organization and development.

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Department of Neuroanatomy, House Ear Institute, Los Angeles, CA 90057, USA.


The goals of the present study were to identify olivocochlear neurons in the human brainstem, to establish the time course of their early development and to compare the organization of the human olivocochlear system to that of other mammals. To accomplish these goals, we used immunohistochemistry for choline acetyltransferase (ChAT) and calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP) in postmortem brainstems of human subjects ranging in age from 16 fetal weeks to 17 years. By immunostaining, we identified two classes of cells in the superior olivary complex: both classes were seen to be present from the twenty-first fetal week to the seventeenth year. Neurons which are immunostained only for ChAT are located primarily in the dorsomedial, ventral and ventrolateral sectors of the periolivary region. These neurons are predominantly bipolar or multipolar cells, and are probably homologous to medial olivocochlear neurons in other species. A second population of cells is immunoreactive for both ChAT and CGRP. This population includes a cluster of mostly small oval neurons, located on the dorsal edge of the olivary complex, and a variable number of cells found along the margin of the lateral olivary nucleus. These ChAT- and CGRP-immunoreactive cells are likely to be homologous to the lateral olivocochlear system in other mammals. With increasing age, the dorsal cluster of small cells shifts from its original cap-like position over the lateral olivary nucleus to become an extended column of cells lying among the fibers of the olivocochlear bundle.

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