The Cochlear Nucleus: The New Frontier

Part of the Springer Handbook of Auditory Research book series (SHAR, volume 35)


Paraphrasing Lord Kelvin, “If you can’t make a model, you didn’t understand.” Conceptual models of the neuronal circuitry within the auditory brainstem have been around for a long time. With the advent of supercomputers and the ubiquity of laptops, computational modeling these days is relatively common.


Stellate Cell Spike Train Cochlear Nucleus Tone Burst Good Frequency 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

Abbreviations and Acronyms






auditory nerve


anteroventral cochlear nucleus

bK, B

sensitivity to potassium conductance


broad-band noise


best frequency




bandwidth of cell group A sending connections to cell B


threshold sensitivity (0–1)






center frequency offset from cell group A to cell B


cochlear nucleus


decibels sound pressure level


dorsal cochlear nucleus


depolarization-induced suppression of inhibition


neuron transmembrane potential


excitatory reversal potential


inhibitory reversal potential


potassium reversal potential


prior soma potential


conductance of the synaptic connection from cell A to B


normalized excitatory synaptic conductance


normalized inhibitory synaptic conductance


normalized potassium conductance


resting conductance


excitatory synaptic conductance


inhibitory synaptic conductance

Gk, GK

potassium conductance


horseradish peroxidase


head-related transfer function


a Ca+-sensitive, hyperpolarization-activated inward rectifier




inhibitory interneurons with type II unit RMs


interspike interval histogram


low-threshold K+


long-term depression


long-term potentiation


number of cell A connections to cell B






ideal onset


onset with late activity


principal cells






potential in soma


peristimulus time histogram


posterioventral cochlear nucleus




response map


spiking variable indicating whether a cell has fired


input spike from cell A


spontaneous activity


magnitude of step current injected into a point neuron


the input current


spontaneous rate


refractory time constant


neuron threshold


initial neuron threshold


membrane time constant


time constant for accommodation


ventral cochlear nucleus


membrane potential relative to rest


wideband inhibitors


spike threshold voltage


conductance step


the connection strength from cell A to cell B


time constant


time constant of synaptic connection from cell A to cell B


potassium time constant


membrane time constant



The authors would like to acknowledge the intellectual and programming contributions to the DCN computational model by Drs. K. Davis, K. Hancock and T. McMullen, and the financial support over the years by NIH and Boston University’s Hearing Research Center and Biomedical Engineering department.


  1. Arle JE, Kim DO (1991) Neural modeling of intrinsic and spike-discharge properties of cochlear nucleus neurons. Biol Cybern 64:273–283.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bahmer A, Langner G (2006) Oscillating neurons in the cochlear nucleus: II. Simulation results. Biol Cybern 95:381–392.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bahmer A, Langner G (2008) A simulation of chopper neurons in the cochlear nucleus with wideband input from onset neurons. Biol Cybern doi: 10.1007/s00422–008–0276–3.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Banks MI, Sachs MB (1991) Regularity analysis in a compartmental model of chopper units in the anteroventral cochlear nucleus. J Neurophysiol 65:606–629.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. Cai Y, Walsh EJ, McGee J (1997) Mechanisms of onset responses in octopus cells of the cochlear nucleus: implications of a model. J Neurophysiol 78:872–883.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Cai Y, McGee J, Walsh EJ (2000) Contributions of ion conductances to the onset responses of octopus cells in the ventral cochlear nucleus: simulation results. J Neurophysiol 83:301–314.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. Carney LH (1993) A model for the responses of low-frequency auditory-nerve fibers in cat. J Acoust Soc Am 93:401–417.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Davis KA, Voigt HF (1994) Neural modeling of the dorsal cochlear nucleus: cross-correlation analysis of short-duration tone-burst responses. Biol Cybern 71:511–521.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Davis KA, Voigt HF (1996) Computer simulation of shared input among projection neurons in the dorsal cochlear nucleus. Biol Cybern 74:413–425.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Davis KA, Voigt HF (1997) Evidence of stimulus-dependent correlated activity in the dorsal cochlear nucleus of decerebrate gerbils. J Neurophysiol 78:229–247.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. Davis KA, Gdowski GT, Voigt HF (1995) A statistically based method to generate response maps objectively. J Neurosci Methods 57:107–118.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Davis KA, Ding J, Benson TE, Voigt HF (1996) Response properties of units in the dorsal cochlear nucleus of unanesthetized decerebrate gerbil. J Neurophysiol 75:1411–1431.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Ding J, Benson TE, Voigt HF (1999) Acoustic and current-pulse responses of identified neurons in the dorsal cochlear nucleus of unanesthetized, decerebrate gerbils. J Neurophysiol 82:3434–3457.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. Eager MA, Grayden DB, Burkitt A, Meffin H (2004) A neural circuit model of the ventral cochlear nucleus. In: Proceedings of the 10th Australian International Conference on Speech Science & Technology, pp. 539–544.Google Scholar
  15. Ferragamo MJ, Oertel D (1998) Shaping of synaptic responses and action potentials in octopus cells. In: Proceedings of Assoc Res Otolaryngol Abstr 21:96.Google Scholar
  16. Fex J (1962) Auditory activity in centrifugal and centripetal cochlear fibres in cat. A study of a feedback system. Acta Physiol Scand Suppl 189:1–68.Google Scholar
  17. Fujino K, Oertel D (2003) Bidirectional synaptic plasticity in the cerebellum-like mammalian dorsal cochlear nucleus. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 100:265–270.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Golding NL, Robertson D, Oertel D (1995) Recordings from slices indicate that octopus cells of the cochlear nucleus detect coincident firing of auditory nerve fibers with temporal precision. J Neurosci 15:3138–3153.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. Golding NL, Ferragamo MJ, Oertel D (1999) Role of intrinsic conductances underlying responses to transients in octopus cells of the cochlear nucleus. J Neurosci 19:2897–2905.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. Hancock KE, Voigt HF (1999) Wideband inhibition of dorsal cochlear nucleus type IV units in cat: a computational model. Ann Biomed Eng 27:73–87.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Hancock KE, Davis KA, Voigt HF (1997) Modeling inhibition of type II units in the dorsal cochlear nucleus. Biol Cybern 76:419–428.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Hawkins HL, McMullen TA, Popper AN, et al., eds (1996) Auditory Computation. New York: Springer Verlag.Google Scholar
  23. Hemmert W, Holmberg M, Gerber M (2003) Coding of auditory information into nerve-action potentials. In: Fortschritte der Akustik, Oldenburg. Deutsche Gesellschaft für Akustik e.v, pp. 770–771.Google Scholar
  24. Hewitt MJ, Meddis R (1991) An evaluation of eight computer models of mammalian inner hair-cell function. J Acoust Soc Am 90:904–917.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Hewitt MJ, Meddis R (1993) Regularity of cochlear nucleus stellate cells: a computational modeling study. J Acoust Soc Am 93:3390–3399.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Hewitt MJ, Meddis R (1995) A computer model of dorsal cochlear nucleus pyramidal cells: intrinsic membrane properties. J Acoust Soc Am 97:2405–2413.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Hewitt MJ, Meddis R, Shackleton TM (1992) A computer model of a cochlear-nucleus stellate cell: responses to amplitude-modulated and pure-tone stimuli. J Acoust Soc Am 91:2096–2109.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Hodgkin AL, Huxley AF (1952) A quantitative description of membrane current and its application to conduction and excitation in nerve. J Physiol 117:500–544.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  29. Holmberg M, Hemmert W (2004) An auditory model for coding speech into nerve-action potentials. In: Proceedings of the Joint Congress CFA/DAGA, Strasbourg, France, March 18–20, 2003, pp. 773–774.Google Scholar
  30. Kalluri S, Delgutte B (2003a) Mathematical models of cochlear nucleus onset neurons: II. model with dynamic spike-blocking state. J Comput Neurosci 14:91–110.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Kalluri S, Delgutte B (2003b) Mathematical models of cochlear nucleus onset neurons: I. Point neuron with many weak synaptic inputs. J Comput Neurosci 14:71–90.Google Scholar
  32. Kane EC (1973) Octopus cells in the cochlear nucleus of the cat: heterotypic synapses upon homeotypic neurons. Int J Neurosci 5:251–279.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Kane EC (1974) Synaptic organization in the dorsal cochlear nucleus of the cat: a light and electron microscopic study. J Comp Neurol 155:301–329.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Kane ES (1977) Descending inputs to the octopus cell area of the cat cochlear nucleus: an electron microscopic study. J Comp Neurol 173:337–354.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Kanold PO, Manis PB (1999) Transient potassium currents regulate the discharge patterns of dorsal cochlear nucleus pyramidal cells. J Neurosci 19:2195–2208.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  36. Kim DO, D’Angelo WR (2000) Computational model for the bushy cell of the cochlear nucleus. Neurocomputing 32–33:189–196.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Kipke DR, Levy KL (1997) Sensitivity of the cochlear nucleus octopus cell to synaptic and membrane properties: a modeling study. J Acoust Soc Am 102:403–412.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Levy KL, Kipke DR (1997) A computational model of the cochlear nucleus octopus cell. J Acoust Soc Am 102:391–402.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Liberman MC, Brown MC (1986) Physiology and anatomy of single olivocochlear neurons in the cat. Hear Res 24:17–36.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Lorente de Nó R (1981) The Primary Acoustic Nuclei. New York: Raven Press.Google Scholar
  41. MacGregor RJ (1987) Neural and Brain Modeling. San Diego: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  42. MacGregor RJ (1993) Theoretical Mechanics of Biological Neural Networks. San Diego: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  43. Mailleux P, Vanderhaeghen JJ (1992) Distribution of neuronal cannabinoid receptor in the adult rat brain: a comparative receptor binding radioautography and in situ hybridization histochemistry. Neuroscience 48:655–668.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Manis PB (1990) Membrane properties and discharge characteristics of guinea pig dorsal cochlear nucleus neurons studied in vitro. J Neurosci 10:2338–2351.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  45. Manis PB, Marx SO (1991) Outward currents in isolated ventral cochlear nucleus neurons. J Neurosci 11:2865–2880.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  46. Nelken I, Young ED (1994) Two separate inhibitory mechanisms shape the responses of dorsal cochlear nucleus type IV units to narrowband and wideband stimuli. J Neurophysiol 71:2446–2462.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  47. Oertel D, Young ED (2004) What’s a cerebellar circuit doing in the auditory system? Trends Neurosci 27:104–110.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Oertel D, Wu SH, Garb MW, Dizack C (1990) Morphology and physiology of cells in slice preparations of the posteroventral cochlear nucleus of mice. J Comp Neurol 295:136–154.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Osen KK (1969) Cytoarchitecture of the cochlear nuclei in the cat. J Comp Neurol 136:453–484.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Osen KK (1970) Course and termination of the primary afferents in the cochlear nuclei of the cat. An experimental anatomical study. Arch Ital Biol 108:21–51.Google Scholar
  51. Osen KK, Mugnaini E (1981) Neuronal circuits in the dorsal cochlear nucleus. In: Syka J, Aitkin L (ed), Neuronal Mechanisms in Hearing. New York: Plenum Press, pp. 119–125.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Ostapoff EM, Feng JJ, Morest DK (1994) A physiological and structural study of neuron types in the cochlear nucleus. II. Neuron types and their structural correlation with response properties. J Comp Neurol 346:19–42.Google Scholar
  53. Parsons JE, Lim E, Voigt HF (2001) Type III units in the gerbil dorsal cochlear nucleus may be spectral notch detectors. Ann Biomed Eng 29:887–896.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Pathmanathan JS, Kim DO (2001) A computational model for the AVCN marginal shell with medial olivocochlear feedback: generation of a wide dynamic range. Neurocomputing 38–40:807–815.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Pont MJ, Damper RI (1991) A computational model of afferent neural activity from the cochlea to the dorsal acoustic stria. J Acoust Soc Am 89:1213–1228.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Popper AN, Fay RR (Eds.) (1992) The Mammalian Auditory Pathway: Neurophysiology. New York : Springer Verlag.Google Scholar
  57. Reed MC, Blum JJ (1995) A computational model for signal processing by the dorsal cochlear nucleus. I. Responses to pure tones. J Acoust Soc Am 97:425–438.Google Scholar
  58. Reed MC, Blum JJ (1997) Model calculations of the effects of wide-band inhibitors in the dorsal cochlear nucleus. J Acoust Soc Am 102:2238–2244.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Rhode WS, Oertel D, Smith PH (1983) Physiological response properties of cells labeled intracellularly with horseradish peroxidase in cat ventral cochlear nucleus. J Comp Neurol 213:448–463.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Rothman JS, Manis PB (2003) The roles potassium currents play in regulating the electrical activity of ventral cochlear nucleus neurons. J Neurophysiol 89:3097–3113.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Rothman JS, Young ED, Manis PB (1993) Convergence of auditory nerve fibers onto bushy cells in the ventral cochlear nucleus: implications of a computational model. J Neurophysiol 70:2562–2583.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  62. Smith PH, Rhode WS (1989) Structural and functional properties distinguish two types of multipolar cells in the ventral cochlear nucleus. J Comp Neurol 282:595–616.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Spirou GA, Young ED (1991) Organization of dorsal cochlear nucleus type IV unit response maps and their relationship to activation by bandlimited noise. J Neurophysiol 66:1750–1768.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  64. Straiker A, Mackie K (2006) Cannabinoids, electrophysiology, and retrograde messengers: challenges for the next 5 years. Aaps J 8:E272–276.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  65. Tzounopoulos T (2006) Mechanisms underlying cell-specific synaptic plasticity in the dorsal cochlear nucleus. In: Proceedings of Assoc Res Otolaryngol Abstr 208.Google Scholar
  66. van Schaik A, Fragnière E, Vittoz E (1996) An analogue electronic model of ventral cochlear nucleus neurons. In: Proceedings of the Fifth International Conference on Microelectronics for Neural Networks and Fuzzy Systems, Los Alamitos, CA, February 12–14, 1996, pp. 52–59.Google Scholar
  67. Voigt HF, Young ED (1980) Evidence of inhibitory interactions between neurons in dorsal cochlear nucleus. J Neurophysiol 44:76–96.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  68. Voigt HF, Young ED (1985) Stimulus dependent neural correlation: an example from the cochlear nucleus. Exp Brain Res 60:594–598.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Voigt HF, Young ED (1988) Neural correlations in the dorsal cochlear nucleus: pairs of units with similar response properties. J Neurophysiol 59:1014–1032.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  70. Voigt HF, Davis KA (1996) Computation of neural correlations in dorsal cochlear nucleus. Adv Speech Hear Lang Process 3:351–375.Google Scholar
  71. Webster DB, Popper AN, Fay RR, eds (1992) The Mammalian Auditory Pathway: Neuroanatomy. New York : Springer Verlag.Google Scholar
  72. Wickesberg RE, Oertel D (1988) Tonotopic projection from the dorsal to the anteroventral cochlear nucleus of mice. J Comp Neurol 268:389–399.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Young ED (1980) Identification of response properties of ascending axons from dorsal cochlear nucleus. Brain Res 200:23–37.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Young ED, Brownell WE (1976) Responses to tones and noise of single cells in dorsal cochlear nucleus of unanesthetized cats. J Neurophysiol 39:282–300.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  75. Young ED, Voigt HF (1982) Response properties of type II and type III units in dorsal cochlear nucleus. Hear Res 6:153–169.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Zheng X, Voigt HF (2006a) A modeling study of notch noise responses of type III units in the gerbil dorsal cochlear nucleus. Ann Biomed Eng 34:1935–1946.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Zheng X, Voigt HF (2006b) Computational model of response maps in the dorsal cochlear nucleus. Biol Cybern 95:233–242.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Zucker RS, Regehr WG (2002) Short-term synaptic plasticity. Annu Rev Physiol 64:355–405.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag US 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Biomedical EngineeringBoston UniversityBostonUSA

Personalised recommendations