Understanding the precise mechanisms underlying mammalian low frequency sound localization is of much interest for both clinical (detecting speech in noise) and fundamental neurobiology (computational) reasons. The brainstem circuit underlying these mechanisms has been extensively studied and has lately enjoyed new interest among the community of auditory neuroscientists. Traditionally considered to embody a delay line system according to a model proposed over 50 years ago by Jeffress, this circuit has recently come under discussion because of its temporally precise inhibitory inputs and thus alternative mechanisms have been suggested. I believe I can contribute important new information to this topic by the experiments proposed here. Our recent studies of the avian sound localization circuit clearly show that anatomical conduction velocity parameters can compensate for axon length differences. This led me to a new hypothesis about a physiological delay line system in the mammalian low frequency sound localization circuit. Instead of axon length, conduction velocity parameters such as axon diameter, myelin sheath thickness and internode distances may provide significant and systematic functional variations toward creating a gradient of conduction times. Moreover, differential expression in conduction velocity parameters might be responsible for the temporally precise tuning of this system in the microsecond range, essential for coincidence detection of binaural sounds arising from different positions along the azimuth. The goal of this proposed research program is to make accurate measurements of axon length and to assess biophysical properties responsible for conduction velocity in the mammalian low frequency sound localization circuit. I hypothesize that in the mammalian low frequency sound localization circuit more features than just axon length create temporal delays. I propose that biophysical properties contribute to physiological delays in ITD coding and create the precise timing needed for the mechanism of this circuit. I will measure total length of individual axons extending from neurons in the anteroventral cochlear nucleus (AVCN) to the ipsilateral and the contralateral medial superior olivary nuclei (MSOs) in the gerbil. Additionally, I will determine axon diameter, myelin sheath thickness and distances between Nodes of Ranvier at strategic position along different segments of the AVCN axon. Finally, I will measure conduction velocities in specific axon segments and correlate them with the anatomical findings. These experiments will enable further understanding of this important brain mechanism and will provide the baseline information needed to experimentally test the importance of the regulation differential axonal characteristics for the development of coincidence detection systems. Ultimately this research will provide a basis to develop tools to repair hearing disabilities and to solve hearing related problems.

Public Health Relevance

Understanding the mechanisms of binaural perception requires detailed analyses of the neural circuitry responsible for the analysis of interaural time differences (ITDs), the main cues for low frequency sound localization and segregation of speech in noise. The objective of this project is to provide a detailed analysis of the biophysical nature of the circuit responsible for ITD coding in the mammalian brainstem. Understanding this mechanism will provide a solid foundation to better understand hearing disabilities and will assist in finding ways to solve hearing related health issues.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD)
Small Research Grants (R03)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZDC1-SRB-Y (56))
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Platt, Christopher
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University of Washington
Schools of Medicine
United States
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Cramer, Karina S; Rubel, Edwin W (2016) Glial Cell Contributions to Auditory Brainstem Development. Front Neural Circuits 10:83
Seidl, Armin H; Rubel, Edwin W (2016) Systematic and differential myelination of axon collaterals in the mammalian auditory brainstem. Glia 64:487-94
Seidl, Armin H; Rubel, Edwin W; Barría, Andrés (2014) Differential conduction velocity regulation in ipsilateral and contralateral collaterals innervating brainstem coincidence detector neurons. J Neurosci 34:4914-9
Seidl, A H (2014) Regulation of conduction time along axons. Neuroscience 276:126-34
Kashima, Daniel T; Rubel, Edwin W; Seidl, Armin H (2013) Pre-target axon sorting in the avian auditory brainstem. J Comp Neurol 521:2310-20