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Keywords:

  • efferents;
  • cochlea;
  • auditory;
  • anterograde-transport;
  • OCB

Abstract

An anterograde tracer (35S-methionine) was injected unilaterally in the superior olivary complex (SOC) at regions previously demonstrated by retrograde labeling to contain olivocochlear (OC) cell bodies. Quantitative analysis of cochlear autoradiographs from these cats demonstrates that there are two OC systems. The lateral OC system has cell bodies lateral to the medial superior olivary nucleus (MSO) and projects to the inner hair cell (IHC) region bilaterally (mostly ipsilaterally). The medial OC system has cell bodies medial, ventral, and anterior to the MSO and projects to the outer hair cell (OHC) region bilaterally (mostly contralaterally). A single medial OC neuron innervates many small patches of OHCs with substantial gaps between the patches. Medial OC neurons also appear to project to the IHC region to a small extent. A review of the literature with the medial-lateral division of OC efferents in mind reveals many differences between these two systems. In particular, lateral OC axons are unmyelinated and innervate the dendrites of radial afferent fibers under IHCs, whereas medial OC axons are myelinated and directly innervate OHCs. Although both systems appear to be cholinergic, the lateral OC system also shows met-enkephalin-like immunoreactivity. The synapses of the medial OC system are formed in development before those of the lateral OC system and they degenerate more slowly after the OC axons are cut. The many differences between these two OC systems suggest that they are functionally separate systems.