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J Neurosci. 2007 Dec 19;27(51):14078-88.

Auditory neurons make stereotyped wiring decisions before maturation of their targets.

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Department of Neurobiology, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts 02115, USA.


Cochlear ganglion neurons communicate sound information from cochlear hair cells to auditory brainstem neurons through precisely wired circuits. Understanding auditory circuit assembly is a significant challenge because of the small size of the otic vesicle and difficulties labeling and imaging embryonic neurons. We used genetic fate mapping in the mouse to visualize the morphologies of individual cochlear ganglion neurons throughout development, from their origin in the Neurogenin1-positive neurogenic domain in the otic vesicle to the formation of connections with targets in the cochlea and in the cochlear nucleus. We found that auditory neurons with different patterns of connectivity arise from discrete populations of Neurogenin1-positive precursors that make stereotyped wiring decisions depending on when and where they are born. Auditory precursors are segregated from vestibular precursors early in neurogenesis. Within this population, cochlear ganglion neurons with type I and type II morphologies are apparent before birth and develop within common pools of precursors. The peripheral projections are initially complex and branched and then become simple and straight after reaching the edge of the sensory epithelium. Subsequently, a small number of projections attain obvious type II morphologies, beginning at embryonic day 16.5 (E16.5), when hair cells begin to differentiate. Centrally, cochlear ganglion axons are topographically organized in the auditory brainstem as early as E15.5, when the cochlear nucleus is still immature. These findings suggest that Neurogenin1 precursors possess intrinsic programs of differentiation that direct early auditory circuit assembly events before the maturation of presynaptic and postsynaptic target cells.

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