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Abstract

Large or “giant” neurons (average somatic diameter > 22μm) of the dorsal cochlear nucleus (DCN) have been carefully described in this light (LM) and electron (EM) microscopic study of normal Nissl-stained and Golgi-impregnated cat brain stems. These neurons can be roughly classed by somatic shape (width:length ratio = r) as elongate (r < 0.65), ovoid (0.65 < r < 0.75), or spherical (0.75 ≤ r ≤ 1.0) in Nissl-stained sections. However, orientation and location of somata, size, number, and distribution of basal dendrites and other cytological features seen in Nissl material provided five, easily recognized classes of large neurons: elongate bipolar, elongate multipolar, globular, radiate, and oriented multipolar giant cells. Further cytological details of the dendritic tree and axonal morphology of these neurons, observed in rapid Golgi impregnations of cat and kitten brain stems, extended these descriptive categories of giant neurons. These same deep DCN giant cells were identified in thick plastic sections and in subsequent thin sections. Thin sections showed further neuronal distinctions by relative density of somatic and dendritic synaptic inputs. All giant cells have dense synaptic inputs to basal and primary dendrites but only elongate multipolar and radiate giant cell somata have nearly continuous synaptic coverage of somata. Many axodendritic terminals and some axosomatic endings resemble cochlear endings as identified on fusiform cells of the DCN. Nauta preparations after ipsilateral cochlear ablations have confirmed (1) cochlear input to all giant cell types and (2) different patterns of input to each type. Hence, each giant cell type must process incoming auditory signals, but each cell must receive slightly different primary information. Since some giant cells of each type had observable axons heading into the dorsal acoustic stria, they must all carry encoded primary information to higher auditory centers.