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Keywords:

  • auditory deprivation;
  • development;
  • auditory nerve;
  • cochlear nucleus;
  • cochlear spiral ganglion;
  • neonatal deafness;
  • primary afferents;
  • tonotopic organization;
  • topographic maps

Abstract

We previously examined the early postnatal maturation of the primary afferent auditory nerve projections from the cat cochlear spiral ganglion (SG) to the cochlear nucleus (CN). In normal kittens these projections exhibit clear cochleotopic organization before birth, but quantitative data showed that their topographic specificity is less precise in perinatal kittens than in adults. Normalized for CN size, projections to the anteroventral (AVCN), posteroventral (PVCN), and dorsal (DCN) subdivisions are all significantly broader in neonates than in adults. By 6–7 postnatal days, projections are proportionate to those of adults, suggesting that significant refinement occurs during the early postnatal period. The present study examined SG projections to the CN in adult cats deafened as neonates by ototoxic drug administration. The fundamental organization of the SG-to-CN projections into frequency band laminae is clearly evident despite severe auditory deprivation from birth. However, when normalized for the smaller CN size in deafened animals, projections are disproportionately broader than in controls; AVCN, PVCN, and DCN projections are 39, 26, and 48% broader, respectively, than predicted if they were precisely proportionate to projections in normal hearing animals. These findings suggest that normal auditory experience and neural activity are essential for the early postnatal development (or subsequent maintenance) of the topographic precision of SG-to-CN projections. After early deafness, the basic cochleotopic organization of the CN is established and maintained into adulthood, but the CN is severely reduced in size and the topographic specificity of primary afferent projections that underlies frequency resolution in the normal central auditory system is significantly degraded. J. Comp. Neurol. 497:13–31, 2006. © 2006 Wiley-Liss, Inc.