Auditory information relayed by auditory nerve fibers and somatosensory information relayed by granule cell parallel fibers converge on the fusiform cells (FCs) of the dorsal cochlear nucleus, the first brain station of the auditory pathway. In vitro, parallel fiber synapses on FCs exhibit spike-timing-dependent plasticity with Hebbian learning rules, partially mediated by the NMDA receptor (NMDAr). Well-timed bimodal auditory-somatosensory stimulation, in vivo equivalent of spike-timing-dependent plasticity, can induce stimulus-timing-dependent plasticity (StTDP) of the FCs spontaneous and tone-evoked firing rates. In healthy guinea pigs, the resulting distribution of StTDP learning rules across a FC neural population is dominated by a Hebbian profile while anti-Hebbian, suppressive and enhancing LRs are less frequent. In this study, we investigate in vivo, the NMDAr contribution to FC baseline activity and long term plasticity. We find that blocking the NMDAr decreases the synchronization of FC- spontaneous activity and mediates differential modulation of FC rate-level functions such that low, and high threshold units are more likely to increase, and decrease, respectively, their maximum amplitudes. Three significant alterations in mean learning-rule profiles were identified: transitions from an initial Hebbian profile towards (1) an anti-Hebbian; (2) a suppressive profile; and (3) transitions from an anti-Hebbian to a Hebbian profile. FC units preserving their learning rules showed instead, NMDAr-dependent plasticity to unimodal acoustic stimulation, with persistent depression of tone-evoked responses changing to persistent enhancement following the NMDAr antagonist. These results reveal a crucial role of the NMDAr in mediating FC baseline activity and long-term plasticity which have important implications for signal processing and auditory pathologies related to maladaptive plasticity of dorsal cochlear nucleus circuitry.
Keywords: NMDA receptors; dorsal cochlear nucleus; mechanisms of neural plasticity; neural plasticity; neural synchrony; stimulus-timing-dependent plasticity; tinnitus.