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Zhang, Chao; Beebe, Nichole L.; Schofield, Brett R.; Pecka, Michael and Burger, R. Michael (2021): Endogenous Cholinergic Signaling Modulates Sound-Evoked Responses of the Medial Nucleus of the Trapezoid Body. In: Journal of Neuroscience, Vol. 41, No. 4: pp. 674-688

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The medial nucleus of trapezoid body (MNTB) is a major source of inhibition in auditory brainstem circuitry. The MNTB projects well-timed inhibitory output to principal sound-localization nuclei in the superior olive (SOC) as well as other computationally important centers. Acoustic information is conveyed to MNTB neurons through a single calyx of Held excitatory synapse arising from the cochlear nucleus. The encoding efficacy of this large synapse depends on its activity rate, which is primarily determined by sound intensity and stimulus frequency. However, MNTB activity rate is additionally influenced by inhibition and possibly neuromodulatory inputs, albeit their functional role is unclear. Happe and Morley (2004) discovered prominent expression of alpha 7 nAChRs in rat SOC, suggesting possible engagement of ACh-mediated modulation of neural activity in the MNTB. However, the existence and nature of this putative modulation have never been physiologically demonstrated. We probed nicotinic cholinergic influences on acoustic responses of MNTB neurons from adult gerbils (Meriones unguiculatus) of either sex. We recorded tone-evoked MNTB single-neuron activity in vivo using extracellular single-unit recording. Piggyback multibarrel electrodes enabled pharmacological manipulation of nAChRs by reversibly applying antagonists to two receptor types, alpha 7 and alpha 4 beta 2. We observed that tone-evoked responses are dependent on ACh modulation by both nAChR subtypes. Spontaneous activity was not affected by antagonist application. Functionally, we demonstrate that ACh contributes to sustaining high discharge rates and enhances signal encoding efficacy. Additionally, we report anatomic evidence revealing novel cholinergic projections to MNTB arising from pontine and superior olivary nuclei.

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