Amplification of input differences by dynamic heterogeneity in the spiral ganglion

Robert A. Crozier, Zachary Q. Wismer, Jeffrey Parra-Munevar, Mark R. Plummer, Robin L. Davis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


A defining feature of type I primary auditory afferents that compose ~95% of the spiral ganglion is their intrinsic electrophysiological heterogeneity. This diversity is evident both between and within unitary, rapid, and slow adaptation (UA, RA, and SA) classes indicative of specializations designed to shape sensory receptor input. But to what end? Our initial impulse is to expect the opposite: that auditory afferents fire uniformly to represent acoustic stimuli with accuracy and high fidelity. Yet this is clearly not the case. One explanation for this neural signaling strategy is to coordinate a system in which differences between input stimuli are amplified. If this is correct, then stimulus disparity enhancements within the primary afferents should be transmitted seamlessly into auditory processing pathways that utilize population coding for difference detection. Using sound localization as an example, one would expect to observe separately regulated differences in intensity level compared with timing or spectral cues within a graded tonotopic distribution. This possibility was evaluated by examining the neuromodulatory effects of cAMP on immature neurons with high excitability and slow membrane kinetics. We found that electrophysiological correlates of intensity and timing were indeed independently regulated and tonotopically distributed, depending on intracellular cAMP signaling level. These observations, therefore, are indicative of a system in which differences between signaling elements of individual stimulus attributes are systematically amplified according to auditory processing constraints. Thus, dynamic heterogeneity mediated by cAMP in the spiral ganglion has the potential to enhance the representations of stimulus input disparities transmitted into higher level difference detection circuitry. NEW & NOTEWORTHY Can changes in intracellular second messenger signaling within primary auditory afferents shift our perception of sound? Results presented herein lead to this conclusion. We found that intracellular cAMP signaling level systematically altered the kinetics and excitability of primary auditory afferents, exemplifying how dynamic heterogeneity can enhance differences between electrophysiological correlates of timing and intensity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1317-1333
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of neurophysiology
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Physiology


  • action potential
  • auditory
  • cAMP
  • difference detection
  • spiral ganglion


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