Evidence of activity-dependent plasticity in the dorsal cochlear nucleus,in vivo, induced by brief sound exposure

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The purpose of the present study was to investigate the immediate effects of acute exposure to intense sound on spontaneous and stimulus-driven activity in the dorsal cochlear nucleus (DCN). We examined the levels of multi- and single-unit spontaneous activity before and immediately following brief exposure (2 min) to tones at levels of either 109 or 85 dB SPL. Exposure frequency was selected to either correspond to the units' best frequency (BF) or fall within the borders of its inhibitory side band. The results demonstrate that these exposure conditions caused significant alterations in spontaneous activity and responses to BF tones. The induced changes have a fast onset (minutes) and are persistent for durations of at least 20 min. The directions of the change were found to depend on the frequency of exposure relative to BF. Transient decreases followed by more sustained increases in spontaneous activity were induced when the exposure frequency was at or near the units’ BF, while sustained decreases of activity resulted when the exposure frequency fell inside the inhibitory side band. Follow-up studies at the single unit level revealed that the observed activity changes were found on unit types having properties which have previously been found to represent fusiform cells. The changes in spontaneous activity occurred despite only minor changes in response thresholds. Noteworthy changes also occurred in the strength of responses to BF tones, although these changes tended to be in the direction opposite those of the spontaneous rate changes. We discuss the possible role of activity-dependent plasticity as a mechanism underlying the rapid emergence of increased spontaneous activity after tone exposure and suggest that these changes may represent a neural correlate of acute noise-induced tinnitus.

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