Molecularly and structurally distinct synapses mediate reliable encoding and processing of auditory information

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Abstract

Hearing impairment is the most common human sensory deficit. Considering the sophisticated anatomy and physiology of the auditory system, disease-related failures frequently occur. To meet the demands of the neuronal circuits responsible for processing auditory information, the synapses of the lower auditory pathway are anatomically and functionally specialized to process acoustic information indefatigably with utmost temporal precision. Despite sharing some functional properties, the afferent synapses of the cochlea and of auditory brainstem differ greatly in their morphology and employ distinct molecular mechanisms for regulating synaptic vesicle release. Calyceal synapses of the endbulb of Held and the calyx of Held profit from a large number of release sites that project onto one principal cell. Cochlear inner hair cell ribbon synapses exhibit a unique one-to-one relation of the presynaptic active zone to the postsynaptic cell and use hair-cell-specific proteins such as otoferlin for vesicle release. The understanding of the molecular physiology of the hair cell ribbon synapse has been advanced by human genetics studies of sensorineural hearing impairment, revealing human auditory synaptopathy as a new nosological entity.

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