Descending Axonal Projections from the Inferior Colliculus Target Nearly All Excitatory and Inhibitory Cell Types of the Dorsal Cochlear Nucleus

Timothy S. Balmer, Laurence O. Trussell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The dorsal cochlear nucleus (DCN) integrates auditory nerve input with nonauditory sensory signals and is proposed to function in sound source localization and suppression of self-generated sounds. The DCN also integrates activity from descending auditory pathways, including a particularly large feedback projection from the inferior colliculus (IC), the main ascending target of the DCN. Understanding how these descending feedback signals are integrated into the DCN circuit and what role they play in hearing requires knowing the targeted DCN cell types and their postsynaptic responses. In order to explore these questions, neurons in the DCN that received descending synaptic input from the IC were labeled with a trans-synaptic viral approach in male and female mice, which allowed them to be targeted for whole-cell recording in acute brain slices. We tested their synaptic responses to optogenetic activation of the descending IC projection. Every cell type in the granule cell domain received monosynaptic, glutamatergic input from the IC, indicating that this region, considered an integrator of nonauditory sensory inputs, processes auditory input as well and may have complex and underappreciated roles in hearing. Additionally, we found that DCN cell types outside the granule cell regions also receive descending IC signals, including the principal projection neurons, as well as the neurons that inhibit them, leading to a circuit that may sharpen tuning through feedback excitation and lateral inhibition.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Auditory processing starts in the cochlea and ascends through the dorsal cochlear nucleus (DCN) to the inferior colliculus (IC) and beyond. Here, we investigated the feedback projection from IC to DCN, whose synaptic targets and roles in auditory processing are unclear. We found that all cell types in the granule cell regions, which process multisensory feedback, also process this descending auditory feedback. Surprisingly, all except one cell type in the entire DCN receive IC input. The IC-DCN projection may therefore modulate the multisensory pathway as well as sharpen tuning and gate auditory signals that are sent to downstream areas. This excitatory feedback loop from DCN to IC and back to DCN could underlie hyperexcitability in DCN, widely considered an etiology of tinnitus.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3381-3393
Number of pages13
JournalThe Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience
Issue number16
StatePublished - Apr 20 2022


  • auditory
  • channelrhodopsin
  • cochlear nucleus
  • inferior colliculus
  • midbrain
  • transsynaptic

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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