1281843

GABA can improve acoustic contrast in the rat ventral cochlear nucleus.

Article date: 1995/1/1

PubMed ID: 1281843

Journal name: Experimental brain research (ISSN: 0014-4819)

ABSTRACT

The effect of microiontophoretically applied gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and its agonists and antagonists on the response pattern of single units in the ventral cochlear nucleus (VCN) of the rat was examined in order to study GABA's physiological function in auditory processing. The effects of the drugs were judged by changes of spontaneous and sound-evoked activity in peristimulus-time histograms (PSTHs) of at least 20 consecutive presentations of acoustic stimuli. GABA inhibited the discharge activity of the majority of neurons. All response types found in the VCN except onset-I responders were sensitive to GABA. The GABAergic inhibition is most probably mediated by GABAA receptors, since the GABAA-receptor agonist muscimol, but not the GABAB-receptor agonist baclofen, mimicked the effect of GABA. The GABAA-receptor antagonists, bicuculline and picrotoxin, had an excitatory effect on the neurons' spontaneous activity, suggesting a tonic endogeneous release of GABA which exerts a permanent inhibition on VCN neurons. Although inhibitory, iontophoresis of GABA emphasized the response to stimulus onset in the PSTHs by means of a stronger inhibition of spontaneous activity. When using iontophoretical currents which did not suppress the neuronal activity completely, a strong inhibition of spontaneous activity was accompanied by only a small inhibition of tone-evoked activity. Under these conditions, the response to tone onset was frequently not inhibited at all. Therefore, GABA's physiological function is possibly to improve the contrast between transient acoustic signals and ongoing background activity. In order to test this hypothesis, the test tone was masked by continuous background noise. Indeed, GABA reduced the noise-evoked discharge more than the tone-evoked discharge, leaving the onset peak in the PSTHs almost unchanged. Thus, GABAergic input improves the signal-to-noise ratio for acoustic transients in VCN neurons. Our data suggest that a functional role of GABA in the VCN is to act as a transmitter within a descending inhibitory feedback loop of the auditory brainstem which serves to improve the transmission of relevant acoustic signals in constant background noise.

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