Astrocyte-secreted factors modulate the developmental distribution of inhibitory synapses in nucleus laminaris of the avian auditory brainstem

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Abstract

Nucleus laminaris (NL) neurons in the avian auditory brainstem are coincidence detectors necessary for the computation of interaural time differences used in sound localization. In addition to their excitatory inputs from nucleus magnocellularis, NL neurons receive inhibitory inputs from the superior olivary nucleus (SON) that greatly improve coincidence detection in mature animals. The mechanisms that establish mature distributions of inhibitory inputs to NL are not known. We used the vesicular GABA transporter (VGAT) as a marker for inhibitory presynaptic terminals to study the development of inhibitory inputs to NL between embryonic day 9 (E9) and E17. VGAT immunofluorescent puncta were first seen sparsely in NL at E9. The density of VGAT puncta increased with development, first within the ventral NL neuropil region and subsequently throughout both the ventral and dorsal dendritic neuropil, with significantly fewer terminals in the cell body region. A large increase in density occurred between E13–15 and E16–17, at a developmental stage when astrocytes that express glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP) become mature. We cultured E13 brainstem slices together with astrocyte-conditioned medium (ACM) obtained from E16 brainstems and found that ACM, but not control medium, increased the density of VGAT puncta. This increase was similar to that observed during normal development. Astrocyte-secreted factors interact with the terminal ends of SON axons to increase the number of GABAergic terminals. These data suggest that factors secreted from GFAP-positive astrocytes promote maturation of inhibitory pathways in the auditory brainstem. J. Comp. Neurol. 520:1262–1277, 2012. © 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

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