Cochlear afferent and efferent fibers in the guinea pig were labeled by focal extracellular injections of horseradish peroxidase into the spiral ganglion of the basal turn. The morphology and pattern of termination of these fibers were studied by light microscopy. Fibers labeled by injections into the peripheral side of the ganglion could be grouped on the basis of their courses and terminations in the cochlea into two classes of afferent fibers, two classes of efferent (olivocochlear) fibers, and other presumably autonomic fibers. This paper describes the characteristics of labeled afferent fibers and their parent ganglion cells.
Peripheral afferent fibers were grouped into two major classes: (1) thick (mean diameter 1.7 μm) radial fibers projecting in a primarily radial fashion from the spiral ganglion and terminating on single inner hair cells and (2) thin (mean diameter 0.5 μm) outer spiral fibers that spiral basalward in the organ of Corti to terminate on outer hair cells, usually in one row. For outer spiral fibers, the number of outer hair cells contacted and the length of the terminal region depend on the row of outer hair cells contacted, with third-row fibers forming, on the average, the most extensive region of termination. Within the spiral ganglion, two types of ganglion cells could be distinguished:(1) type-I ganglion cells of large size (mean soma area = 216 μm2) with a ratio of central process diameter to peripheral process diameter greater than one and (2)type-II ganglion cells of smaller size (mean soma area = 100 μm2) and a central to peripheral process ratio near one. In three cochleae in which injections were made central to the ganglion, 11 type-I ganglion cells have been traced to radial fibers contacting inner hair cells and eight type-II ganglion cells have been traced to outer spiral fibers contacting outer hair cells. Thus the afferent innervation of the guinea pig cochlea is similar to the pattern described in other mammals, in which there is separate innervation of the inner and outer hair cells by the two types of ganglion cells.
The central axons of both types of ganglion cells were traced individually through serial sections of a block of tissue containing the cochlea, the auditory nerve, and the cochlear nucleus. They followed similar courses in the auditory nerve, and the axons followed into the cochlear nucleus bifurcated in similar regions of the interstitial portion. Type-I central axons were thick (mean diameter = 2.1 μm) whereas the central axons of type-II neurons were thin (mean diameter = 0.5 μm). Type-I axons had periodic constrictions interpreted as nodes of Ranvier; these were lacking on the thin axons of the type-II ganglion cells. The morphological differences between the two types of afferent fibers suggest that they may play very different functional roles.