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J Neurosci. 2012 Nov 7;32(45):15791-801. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2598-12.2012.

Somatosensory projections to cochlear nucleus are upregulated after unilateral deafness.

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Kresge Hearing Research Institute, Department of Otolaryngology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48109-0506, USA.


The cochlear nucleus (CN) receives innervation from auditory and somatosensory structures, which can be identified using vesicular glutamate transporters, VGLUT1 and VGLUT2. VGLUT1 is highly expressed in the magnocellular ventral CN (VCN), which receives auditory nerve inputs. VGLUT2 is predominantly expressed in the granule cell domain (GCD), which receives nonauditory inputs from somatosensory nuclei, including spinal trigeminal nucleus (Sp5) and cuneate nucleus (Cu). Two weeks after unilateral deafening VGLUT1 is significantly decreased in ipsilateral VCN while VGLUT2 is significantly increased in the ipsilateral GCD (Zeng et al., 2009), putatively reflecting decreased inputs from auditory nerve and increased inputs from nonauditory structures in guinea pigs. Here, we wished to determine whether the upregulation of VGLUT2 represents increases in the number of somatosensory projections to the CN that are maintained for longer periods of time. Thus, we examined concurrent changes in VGLUT levels and somatosensory projections in the CN using immunohistochemistry combined with anterograde tract tracing three and six weeks following unilateral deafening. The data reveal that unilateral deafness leads to increased numbers of VGLUT2-colabeled Sp5 and Cu projections to the ventral and dorsal CN. These findings suggest that Sp5 and Cu play significant and unique roles in cross-modal compensation and that, unlike after shorter term deafness, neurons in the magnocellular regions also participate in the compensation. The enhanced glutamatergic somatosensory projections to the CN may play a role in neural spontaneous hyperactivity associated with tinnitus.

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