In the mammalian brain, auditory information is known to be processed along a central ascending pathway leading to auditory cortex (AC). Whether there exist any major pathways beyond this canonical auditory neuraxis remains unclear. In awake mice, we found that auditory responses in entorhinal cortex (EC) cannot be explained by a previously proposed relay from AC based on response properties. By combining anatomical tracing and optogenetic/pharmacological manipulations, we discovered that EC received auditory input primarily from the medial septum (MS), rather than AC. A previously uncharacterized auditory pathway was then revealed: it branched from the cochlear nucleus, and via caudal pontine reticular nucleus, pontine central gray, and MS, reached EC. Neurons along this non-canonical auditory pathway responded selectively to high-intensity broadband noise, but not pure tones. Disruption of the pathway resulted in an impairment of specifically noise-cued fear conditioning. This reticular-limbic pathway may thus function in processing aversive acoustic signals.
Keywords: auditory fear conditioning; basal forebrain; entorhinal cortex; lemniscal and nonlemniscal auditory pathway; limbic system; reticular formation; septum complex.
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