Avian superior olivary nucleus provides divergent inhibitory input to parallel auditory pathways

J Comp Neurol. 2005 Jan 3;481(1):6-18. doi: 10.1002/cne.20334.


The avian auditory brainstem displays parallel processing, a fundamental feature of vertebrate sensory systems. Nuclei specialized for temporal processing are largely separate from those processing other aspects of sound. One possible exception to this parallel organization is the inhibitory input provided by the superior olivary nucleus (SON) to nucleus angularis (NA), nucleus magnocellularis (NM), and nucleus laminaris (NL) and contralateral SON (SONc). We sought to determine whether single SON neurons project to multiple targets or separate neuronal populations project independently to individual target nuclei. We introduced two different fluorescent tracer molecules into pairs of target nuclei and quantified the extent to which retrogradely labeled SON neurons were double labeled. A large proportion of double-labeled SON somata were observed in all cases in which injections were made into any pair of ipsilateral targets (NA and NM, NA and NL, or NM and NL), suggesting that many individual SON neurons project to multiple targets. In contrast, when injections involved the SONc and any or all of the ipsilateral targets, double labeling was rare, suggesting that contralateral and ipsilateral targets are innervated by distinct populations of SON neurons arising largely from regionally segregated areas of SON. Therefore, at the earliest stages of auditory processing, there is interaction between pathways specialized to process temporal cues and those that process other acoustic features. We present a conceptual model that incorporates these results and suggest that SON circuitry, in part, functions to offset interaural intensity differences in interaural time difference processing.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Auditory Pathways / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Brain Stem / cytology
  • Brain Stem / embryology
  • Brain Stem / physiology
  • Chick Embryo
  • Cochlear Nucleus / cytology
  • Cochlear Nucleus / embryology
  • Cochlear Nucleus / physiology
  • Functional Laterality
  • Models, Neurological
  • Neural Inhibition / physiology*
  • Neurons / cytology
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Olivary Nucleus / cytology
  • Olivary Nucleus / embryology*
  • Olivary Nucleus / physiology*