Cochlear nucleus neurons redistribute synaptic AMPA and glycine receptors in response to monaural conductive hearing loss

Neuroscience. 2009 Nov 10;163(4):1264-76. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2009.07.049. Epub 2009 Jul 28.


Neurons restore their function in response to external or internal perturbations and maintain neuronal or network stability through a homeostatic scaling mechanism. Homeostatic responses at synapses along the auditory system would be important for adaptation to normal and abnormal fluctuations in the sensory environment. We investigated at the electron microscopic level and after postembedding immunogold labeling whether projection neurons in the cochlear nucleus responded to modifications of auditory nerve activity. After unilaterally reducing the level of auditory inputs by approximately 20 dB by monaural earplugging, auditory nerve synapses on bushy cells somata and basal dendrites of fusiform cells of the ventral and dorsal cochlear nucleus, respectively, upregulated GluR3 AMPA receptor subunit, while inhibitory synapses decreased the expression of GlyRalpha1 subunit. These changes in expression levels were fully reversible once the earplug was removed, indicating that activity affects the trafficking of receptors at synapses. Excitatory synapses on apical dendrites of fusiform cells (parallel fibers) with different synaptic AMPA receptor subunit composition, were not affected by sound attenuation, as the expression levels of AMPA receptor subunits were the same as in normal hearing littermates. GlyRalpha1 subunit expression at inhibitory synapses on apical dendrites of fusiform cells was also found unaffected. Furthermore, fusiform and bushy cells of the contralateral side to the earplugging upregulated the GluR3 subunit at auditory nerve synapses. These results show that cochlear nucleus neurons innervated by the auditory nerve, are able to respond to small changes in sound levels by redistributing specific AMPA and glycine receptor subunits.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Animals
  • Cochlear Nerve / physiopathology
  • Cochlear Nucleus / physiopathology*
  • Cochlear Nucleus / ultrastructure
  • Dendrites / physiology
  • Dendrites / ultrastructure
  • Hearing Loss, Conductive / physiopathology*
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Neurons / ultrastructure
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Receptors, AMPA / metabolism*
  • Receptors, Glycine / metabolism*
  • Sensory Deprivation / physiology
  • Synapses / physiology*
  • Synapses / ultrastructure


  • Receptors, AMPA
  • Receptors, Glycine
  • glutamate receptor ionotropic, AMPA 3