Synaptic mechanisms for coding timing in auditory neurons

Annu Rev Physiol. 1999;61:477-96. doi: 10.1146/annurev.physiol.61.1.477.


Neurons in the cochlear ganglion and auditory brain stem nuclei preserve the relative timing of action potentials passed through sequential synaptic levels. To accomplish this task, these neurons have unique morphological and biophysical specializations in axons, dendrites, and nerve terminals. At the membrane level, these adaptations include low-threshold, voltage-gated potassium channels and unusually rapid-acting transmitter-gated channels, which govern how quickly and reliably action potential threshold is reached during a synaptic response. Some nerve terminals are remarkably large and release large amounts of excitatory neurotransmitter. The high output of transmitter at these terminals can lead to synaptic depression, which may itself be regulated by presynaptic transmitter receptors. The way in which these different cellular mechanisms are employed varies in different cell types and circuits and reflects refinements suited to different aspects of acoustic processing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Auditory Pathways / cytology
  • Auditory Pathways / physiology*
  • Brain Stem / physiology
  • Electric Conductivity
  • Excitatory Postsynaptic Potentials / physiology
  • Humans
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Potassium / physiology
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Synapses / physiology*
  • Synapses / ultrastructure


  • Potassium