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Synaptic Morphology and the Influence of Auditory Experience

The auditory experience is crucial for the normal development and maturation of brain structure and the maintenance of the auditory pathways. The specific aims of this review are (i) to provide a brief background of the synaptic morphology of the endbulb of Held in hearing and deaf animals; (ii) to argue the importance of this large synaptic ending in linking neural activity along ascending pathways to environmental acoustic events; (iii) to describe how the re-introduction of electrical activity changes this synapse; and (iv) to examine how changes at the endbulb synapse initiate trans-synaptic changes in ascending auditory projections to the superior olivary complex, the inferior complex, and the auditory cortex.

from Hearing Research

Malformation of the human superior olive in autistic spectrum disorders

Autistic spectrum disorders (ASD) comprise a continuum of psychosocial disorders clinically characterized by social difficulties, impaired communication skills and repetitive behavioral patterns. Despite the prevalence of ASD, the neurobiology of this disorder is poorly understood. However, abnormalities in neuronal morphology, cell number and connectivity have been described throughout the autistic brain. Further, there is ample evidence that auditory dysfunction is a common feature of autism. Our preliminary investigation of neuronal morphology in the auditory brainstem of individuals with ASD focused on the medial superior olive (MSO) and revealed that neurons in this region were significantly smaller and rounder than in controls. In this report, we expand our investigation to examine all nuclei within the human superior olivary complex (SOC), an important auditory brainstem center. We examine neuronal morphology and neuronal number in four control (average age = 15 years) and 9 autistic brains (average age = 15 years). This detailed investigation supports our previous descriptions of the MSO, and also reveals significant dysmorphology in five other SOC nuclei. Moreover, we provide evidence of a consistent and significant decrease in the number of SOC neurons in the autistic brain. Our studies implicate an extensive malformation of the auditory brainstem in the hearing and language difficulties in individuals with ASD. The results from this investigation suggest that neonatal testing of auditory function may aid in the identification of individuals with ASD earlier than presently possible.

from Brain Research