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Keywords:

  • cochlear innervation;
  • olivocochlear;
  • autonomic;
  • sympathetic;
  • hair cells

Abstract

Efferent axons to the guinea pig cochlea were labeled by extracellular injections of horseradish peroxidase into the intraganglionic spiral bundle within the spiral ganglion. The terminal fibers formed by these axons were classified according to their patterns of termination within the basal turn of the cochlea. A class of terminal fibers designated “autonomic” forms a highly branched plexus in the osseous spiral lamina but does not enter the organ of Corti. The termination of single autonomics includes blood vessels as well as areas of the osseous spiral lamina not adjacent to blood vessels. Two major classes of efferent axons from the olivocochlear bundle enter the cochlea by way of the vestibulocochlear anastomosis and terminate either in areas near inner hair cells (IHC efferents) or onto outer hair cells (OHC efferents). The IHC efferents have thin axons throughout their course within the cochlea and can be divided into two subclasses. The most numerous subclass of IHC efferents (unidirectional) enters the inner spiral bundle and turns to spiral in only one direction for less than 1 mm and then forms a discrete termination including many en passant and terminal swellings that are within both the inner and tunnel spiral bundles. A less common subclass of IHC efferents (bidirectional) bifurcates upon entry into the inner spiral bundle to send branches both apically and basally. These terminal fibers take spiral courses that are greater than 1 mm in extent, often course in the tunnel spiral bundle for a large portion of the spiral, and form terminals throughout their extended spiral course. None of the IHC efferent fibers send branches to cross the tunnel to innervate the outer hair cells. A second major class of olivocochlear fibers, OHC efferent fibers, forms large boutons on the outer hair cells, and although they sometimes spiral beneath the IHCs for some length, they do not give off terminals to this region. The OHC efferent axons are thick and myelinated as they enter the cochlea, and they branch near the spiral ganglion to form several terminal fibers. Some of these terminal fibers are thin as they travel from the intraganglionic spiral bundle across the osseous spiral lamina to the organ of Corti, whereas others are thick and obviously myelinated as far peripheral as the habenula. The diameter of the OHC efferent fibers in the lamina is related to the extent of innervation in terms of the number of tunnel-crossing branches and the number of boutons on the OHCs. Reconstructions of the parent axons forming these fibers showed that single neurons can span lengths of the organ of Corti up to 1.5 mm. The two major classes of olivocochlear terminal fibers seen in the present study may represent the terminations of the two groups of brainstem olivocochlear neurons found in previous studies. That these groups have separate terminations, and that their axons are of quite different caliber, are facts that strongly argue for a distinct morphological separation of the two groups of olivocochlear neurons which undoubtedly has functional significance.