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Structural and functional classes of multipolar cells in the ventral cochlear nucleus.

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Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland 21205, USA.


Multipolar cells in the ventral cochlear nucleus (VCN) are a structurally and functionally diverse group of projection neurons. Understanding their role in the ascending pathway involves partitioning multipolar cells into distinct populations and determining where in the brain each sends its coded messages. In this study, we used retrograde labeling techniques in rats to identify multipolar neurons that project their axons to the ipsilateral dorsal cochlear nucleus (DCN), the contralateral CN, or both structures. Three rats received injections of biotinylated dextran amine in the ipsilateral DCN and diamidino yellow in the contralateral CN. Several radiate multipolar neurons (defined by their axonal projections to the ipsilateral DCN and their dendrites that traverse VCN isofrequency sheets) were double-labeled but over 70% were not. This result suggests two distinct populations: (1) radiate-commissural (RC) multipolar cells that project to the ipsilateral DCN and the contralateral CN, and (2) radiate multipolar cells that project exclusively (in this context) to the ipsilateral DCN. In a different group of animals, we retrogradely labeled multipolar neurons that project their axons to the contralateral CN and measured the size of their cell bodies. The mean size of this population (266 +/- 156 microm2) was significantly smaller than those of RC-multipolar cells (418 +/- 140 microm2). We conclude that the CN commissural pathway is composed of at least two components: (1) RC multipolar cells and (2) commissural multipolar cells that are small- and medium-sized neurons that project exclusively (in this context) to the contralateral CN. These results identify separate structural groups of multipolar cells that may correspond to physiological unit types described in the literature. They also provide protocols for isolating and studying different populations of multipolar cells to determine the neural mechanisms that govern their responses to sound.

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