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The basic circuit of the IC: tectothalamic neurons with different patterns of synaptic organization send different messages to the thalamus

Frontiers in Neural Circuits
Frontiers Media SA
Publication Date
DOI: 10.3389/fncir.2012.00048
  • Neuroscience
  • Review Article


The inferior colliculus (IC) in the midbrain of the auditory system uses a unique basic circuit to organize the inputs from virtually all of the lower auditory brainstem and transmit this information to the medial geniculate body (MGB) in the thalamus. Here, we review the basic circuit of the IC, the neuronal types, the organization of their inputs and outputs. We specifically discuss the large GABAergic (LG) neurons and how they differ from the small GABAergic (SG) and the more numerous glutamatergic neurons. The somata and dendrites of LG neurons are identified by axosomatic glutamatergic synapses that are lacking in the other cell types and exclusively contain the glutamate transporter VGLUT2. Although LG neurons are most numerous in the central nucleus of the IC (ICC), an analysis of their distribution suggests that they are not specifically associated with one set of ascending inputs. The inputs to ICC may be organized into functional zones with different subsets of brainstem inputs, but each zone may contain the same three neuron types. However, the sources of VGLUT2 axosomatic terminals on the LG neuron are not known. Neurons in the dorsal cochlear nucleus, superior olivary complex, intermediate nucleus of the lateral lemniscus, and IC itself that express the gene for VGLUT2 only are the likely origin of the dense VGLUT2 axosomatic terminals on LG tectothalamic neurons. The IC is unique since LG neurons are GABAergic tectothalamic neurons in addition to the numerous glutamatergic tectothalamic neurons. SG neurons evidently target other auditory structures. The basic circuit of the IC and the LG neurons in particular, has implications for the transmission of information about sound through the midbrain to the MGB.

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