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J Neurosci. 1996 Jun 1;16(11):3775-89.

A primary acoustic startle pathway: obligatory role of cochlear root neurons and the nucleus reticularis pontis caudalis.

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  • 1Yale University School of Medicine, Connecticut Mental Health Center, New Haven 06508, USA.


Davis et al. (1982) proposed a primary acoustic startle circuit in rats consisting of the auditory nerve, posteroventral cochlear nucleus, an area near the ventrolateral lemniscus (VLL), nucleus reticularis pontis caudalis (PnC), and spinal motoneurons. Using fiber-sparing lesions, the present study reevaluated these and other structures together with the role of neurons embedded in the auditory nerve [cochlear root neurons (CRNs)], recently hypothesized to be involved in acoustic startle. Small electrolytic lesions of the VLL of ventrolateral tegmental nucleus (VLTg) failed to eliminate startle. Large electrolytic lesions including the rostral ventral nucleus of the trapezoid body (rVNTB) and ventrolateral parts of PnC or lesions of the entire PnC blocked startle. However, small NMDA-induced lesions of the rVNTB failed to block startle, making it unlikely that the rVNTB itself is part of the startle pathway. In contrast, NMDA lesions of the full extension of the ventrolateral part of the PnC blocked startle completely, suggesting that the ventrolateral part of the PnC is critically involved. Bilateral kainic acid lesions of CRNs also blocked the startle reflex completely, providing the first direct evidence for an involvement of CRNs in startle. This blockade probably was not caused by damage to the auditory nerve, because the lesioned animals showed intact compound action potentials recorded from the ventral cochlear nucleus. Hence, a primary acoustic startle pathway may involve three synapses onto (1) CRNs, (2) neurons in PnC, and (3) spinal motoneurons.

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