Neuroanatomical characterization of perineuronal net components in the human cochlear nucleus and superior olivary complex

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The human auditory brainstem, especially the cochlear nucleus (CN) and the superior olivary complex (SOC) are characterized by a high density of neurons associated with perineuronal nets (PNs). PNs build a specific form of extracellular matrix surrounding the neuronal somata, proximal dendrites and axon initial segments. They restrict synaptic plasticity and control high-frequency synaptic activity, a prominent characteristic of neurons of the auditory brainstem. The distribution of PNs within the auditory brainstem has been investigated in a number of mammalian species. However, much less is known regarding PNs in the human auditory brainstem. The present study aimed at the immunohistochemical identification of PNs in the cochlear nucleus (CN) and superior olivary complex (SOC) in the human brainstem. We focused on the complex nature and molecular variability of PNs in the CN and SOC by using specific antibodies against the main PN components (aggrecan, brevican, neurocan and hyaluronan and proteoglycan link protein 1). Virtually all subnuclei within the ventral CN and SOC were found to be associated with PNs. Direct comparison between gerbil and human yielded similar fine structure of PNs and confirmed the typical tight interdigitation of PNs with synaptic terminals in both species. Noticeably, an elaborate combination of immunohistochemical labelings clearly supports the still debated existence of the medial nucleus of trapezoid body (MNTB) in the human brain. In conclusion, the present study demonstrates that PNs form a prominent extracellular structure on CN and SOC neurons in the human brain, potentially stabilizing synaptic contacts, which is in agreement with many other mammalian species.HighlightsProteoglycan core protein antibodies reliably detect PNs in the human brainstemPNs are present in all subnuclei of the human superior olivary complexPNs enclose excitatory and inhibitory synapses mostly on the neuronal somataThe data provide further evidence for the existence of the MNTB in the human brain

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