Talking back: Development of the olivocochlear efferent system

Wiley Interdiscip Rev Dev Biol. 2018 Nov;7(6):e324. doi: 10.1002/wdev.324. Epub 2018 Jun 26.


Developing sensory systems must coordinate the growth of neural circuitry spanning from receptors in the peripheral nervous system (PNS) to multilayered networks within the central nervous system (CNS). This breadth presents particular challenges, as nascent processes must navigate across the CNS-PNS boundary and coalesce into a tightly intermingled wiring pattern, thereby enabling reliable integration from the PNS to the CNS and back. In the auditory system, feedforward spiral ganglion neurons (SGNs) from the periphery collect sound information via tonotopically organized connections in the cochlea and transmit this information to the brainstem for processing via the VIII cranial nerve. In turn, feedback olivocochlear neurons (OCNs) housed in the auditory brainstem send projections into the periphery, also through the VIII nerve. OCNs are motor neuron-like efferent cells that influence auditory processing within the cochlea and protect against noise damage in adult animals. These aligned feedforward and feedback systems develop in parallel, with SGN central axons reaching the developing auditory brainstem around the same time that the OCN axons extend out toward the developing inner ear. Recent findings have begun to unravel the genetic and molecular mechanisms that guide OCN development, from their origins in a generic pool of motor neuron precursors to their specialized roles as modulators of cochlear activity. One recurrent theme is the importance of efferent-afferent interactions, as afferent SGNs guide OCNs to their final locations within the sensory epithelium, and efferent OCNs shape the activity of the developing auditory system. This article is categorized under: Nervous System Development > Vertebrates: Regional Development.

Keywords: auditory system; brainstem development; efferent feedback; motor neuron.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Auditory Pathways / cytology
  • Auditory Pathways / growth & development
  • Auditory Pathways / metabolism*
  • Brain Stem / cytology
  • Brain Stem / growth & development
  • Brain Stem / metabolism*
  • Cochlea / cytology
  • Cochlea / growth & development
  • Cochlea / innervation
  • Cochlea / metabolism*
  • Cranial Nerves / cytology
  • Cranial Nerves / growth & development
  • Cranial Nerves / metabolism*
  • Efferent Pathways / cytology
  • Efferent Pathways / growth & development
  • Efferent Pathways / metabolism*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental
  • Humans
  • Morphogenesis / genetics
  • Motor Neurons / cytology
  • Motor Neurons / metabolism
  • Neurons, Afferent / cytology
  • Neurons, Afferent / metabolism
  • Neurons, Efferent / cytology
  • Neurons, Efferent / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction
  • Spiral Ganglion / cytology
  • Spiral Ganglion / growth & development
  • Spiral Ganglion / metabolism*
  • Transcription Factors / genetics
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism


  • Transcription Factors