The cochlear nucleus (CN) is the first site of multisensory integration in the ascending auditory pathway. The principal output neurons of the dorsal cochlear nucleus (DCN), fusiform cells, receive somatosensory information relayed by the CN granule cells from the trigeminal and dorsal column pathways. Integration of somatosensory and auditory inputs results in long-term enhancement or suppression in a stimulus-timing-dependent manner. Here, we demonstrate that stimulus-timing-dependent plasticity (STDP) can be induced in DCN fusiform cells using paired auditory and transcutaneous electrical stimulation of the face and neck to activate trigeminal and dorsal column pathways to the CN, respectively. Long-lasting changes in fusiform cell firing rates persisted for up to 2 h after this bimodal stimulation, and followed Hebbian or anti-Hebbian rules, depending on tone duration, but not somatosensory stimulation location: 50 ms paired tones evoked predominantly Hebbian, while 10 ms paired tones evoked predominantly anti-Hebbian plasticity. The tone-duration-dependent STDP was strongly correlated with first inter-spike intervals, implicating intrinsic cellular properties as determinants of STDP. This study demonstrates that transcutaneous stimulation with precise auditory-somatosensory timing parameters can non-invasively induce fusiform cell long-term modulation, which could be harnessed in the future to moderate tinnitus-related hyperactivity in DCN.
Keywords: dorsal cochlear nucleus; multisensory integration; stimulus-timing-dependent plasticity; tinnitus; transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation.