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J Neurophysiol. 2008 Aug;100(2):646-56. doi: 10.1152/jn.90406.2008. Epub 2008 Jun 4.

Disruption of balanced cortical excitation and inhibition by acoustic trauma.

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Institute of Neuroscience, University of Oregon, Eugene, OR 97403, USA.


Sensory deafferentation results in rapid shifts in the receptive fields of cortical neurons, but the synaptic mechanisms underlying these changes remain unknown. The rapidity of these shifts has led to the suggestion that subthreshold inputs may be unmasked by a selective loss of inhibition. To study this, we used in vivo whole cell recordings to directly measure tone-evoked excitatory and inhibitory synaptic inputs in auditory cortical neurons before and after acoustic trauma. Here we report that acute acoustic trauma disrupted the balance of excitation and inhibition by selectively increasing and reducing the strength of inhibition at different positions within the receptive field. Inhibition was abolished for frequencies far below the trauma-tone frequency but was markedly enhanced near the edges of the region of elevated peripheral threshold. These changes occurred for relatively high-level tones. These changes in inhibition led to an expansion of receptive fields but not by a simple unmasking process. Rather, membrane potential responses were delayed and prolonged throughout the receptive field by distinct interactions between synaptic excitation and inhibition. Far below the trauma-tone frequency, decreased inhibition combined with prolonged excitation led to increased responses. Near the edges of the region of elevated peripheral threshold, increased inhibition served to delay rather than abolish responses, which were driven by prolonged excitation. These results show that the rapid receptive field shifts caused by acoustic trauma are caused by distinct mechanisms at different positions within the receptive field, which depend on differential disruption of excitation and inhibition.

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