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Synaptic events and discharge patterns of cochlear nucleus cells. I. Steady-frequency tone bursts


Unitary discharge patterns (peristimulus time histograms or PSTH) and synaptic events were studies with intracellular recording techniques in 164 cat cochlear nucleus cells to steady-frequency tone bursts 250 ms in duration. There were four response types defined on the basis of the shape of the discharge patterns to tones at the characteristic or best frequency. Primarylike units resemble eighth nerve fibres and have a maximum discharge at tone onset, followed by a smooth decline to a steady level of activity. Buildup units have a transient response at tone onset, followed a period of little or not activity before gradually increasing their discharge rate for the remainder of the tone burst. Onset units have an initial burst of spikes at the onset, with little or no activity for the remainder of the tone burst. Pause units have a long latency (10-30 ms) between tone onset and the appearance of low levels of unit activity, which then gradually increase in rate for the remainder of the tone burst. Changes in signal frequency or intensity within the excitatory response area did not modify response patterns of primarylike and onset units, but could evoke primarylike patterns in buildup and pause units. Inhibition manifested by suppression of spontaneous activity and membrane hyperpolarization were of three kinds: 1) in response to signals at the edges of the excitatory response area (i.e., the inhibitory surround) and detected in onset buildup, and pause units but not in primarylike units; 2) occurring at the offset of tones in the excitatory response area and detected in all four types of cochlear nucleus cells; 3) during excitatory tone bursts in onset and buildup units associated with the periods of suppressed unit activity. Membrane hyperpolarization did not accompany the delay in unit activity after tone onset in pause units. Inhibitory events in cochlear nucleus cells provide mechanisms for producing diversity in the temporal pattern of discharges to acoustic signals which may underly the encoding of complex features of sounds.

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