Development of the inner ear efferent system across vertebrate species

Authors

  • Dwayne D. Simmons

    Corresponding author
    1. Harold W. Siebens Hearing Research Center, Central Institute for the Deaf and Departments of Otolaryngology and of Anatomy and Neurobiology, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, Missouri 63110
    • Harold W. Siebens Hearing Research Center, Central Institute for the Deaf and Departments of Otolaryngology and of Anatomy and Neurobiology, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, Missouri 63110
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Abstract

Inner ear efferent neurons are part of a descending centrifugal pathway from the hindbrain known across vertebrates as the octavolateralis efferent system. This centrifugal pathway terminates on either sensory hair cells or eighth nerve ganglion cells. Most studies of efferent development have used either avian or mammalian models. Recent studies suggest that prevailing notions of the development of efferent innervation need to be revised. In birds, efferents reside in a single, diffuse nucleus, but segregate according to vestibular or cochlear projections. In mammals, the auditory and vestibular efferents are completely separate. Cochlear efferents can be divided into at least two distinct, descending medial and lateral pathways. During development, inner ear efferents appear to be a specific motor neuron phenotype, but unlike motor neurons have contralateral projections, innervate sensory targets, and, at least in mammals, also express noncholinergic neurotransmitters. Contrary to prevailing views, newer data suggest that medial efferent neurons mature early, are mostly, if not exclusively, cholinergic, and project transiently to the inner hair cell region of the cochlea before making final synapses on outer hair cells. On the other hand, lateral efferent neurons mature later, are neurochemically heterogeneous, and project mostly, but not exclusively to the inner hair cell region. The early efferent innervation to the ear may serve an important role in the maturation of afferent responses. This review summarizes recent data on the neurogenesis, pathfinding, target selection, innervation, and onset of neurotransmitter expression in cholinergic efferent neurons. © 2002 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J Neurobiol 53: 228–250, 2002

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