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J Assoc Res Otolaryngol. 2014 Aug;15(4):571-83. doi: 10.1007/s10162-014-0462-z. Epub 2014 May 14.

Olivocochlear innervation maintains the normal modiolar-pillar and habenular-cuticular gradients in cochlear synaptic morphology.

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Department of Otology and Laryngology, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA.


Morphological studies of inner hair cell (IHC) synapses with cochlear nerve terminals have suggested that high- and low-threshold fibers differ in the sizes of their pre- and postsynaptic elements as well as the position of their synapses around the hair cell circumference. Here, using high-power confocal microscopy, we measured sizes and spatial positions of presynaptic ribbons, postsynaptic glutamate receptor (GluR) patches, and olivocochlear efferent terminals at eight locations along the cochlear spiral in normal and surgically de-efferented mice. Results confirm a prior report suggesting a modiolar > pillar gradient in ribbon size and a complementary pillar > modiolar gradient in GluR-patch size. We document a novel habenular < cuticular gradient in GluR patch size and a complementary cuticular < habenular gradient in olivocochlear innervation density. All spatial gradients in synaptic elements collapse after cochlear de-efferentation, suggesting a major role of olivocochlear efferents in maintaining functional heterogeneity among cochlear nerve fibers. Our spatial analysis also suggests that adjacent IHCs may contain a different synaptic mix, depending on whether their tilt in the radial plane places their synaptic pole closer to the pillar cells or to the modiolus.

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