Statoacoustic ganglion cells in the mature bird include neurons that are responsive to sound (auditory) and those that are not (nonauditory). Those that are nonauditory have been shown to innervate an otolith organ, the macula lagena, whereas auditory neurons innervate the basilar papilla. In the present study, single-unit recordings of statoacoustic ganglion cells were made in embryonic (E19, mean = 19.2 days of incubation) and hatchling (P6- P14, mean = 8.6 days posthatch) chickens. Spontaneous activity from the two age groups was compared with developmental changes. Activity was evaluated for 47 auditory, 11 nonauditory, and 6 undefined eighth nerve neurons in embryos and 29 auditory, 26 nonauditory, and 1 undefined neurons in hatchlings. For auditory neurons, spontaneous activity displayed an irregular pattern [discharge interval coefficient of variation (CV) was >0.5, mean CV for embryos was 1.46 ± 0.58 and for hatchlings was 1.02 ± 0.25; means ± SD]. Embryonic discharge rates ranged from 0.05 to 97.6 spikes per second (sp/s) for all neurons (mean 18.6 ± 16.9 sp/s). Hatchling spontaneous rates ranged from 1.2 to 185.2 sp/s (mean 66.5 ± 39.6 sp/s). Discharge rates were significantly higher for hatchlings (P < 0.001). Many embryonic auditory neurons displayed long silent periods between irregular bursts of neural activity, a feature not seen posthatch. All regular bursting discharge patterns were correlated with heart rate in both embryos and hatchlings. Preferred intervals were visible in the time interval histograms (TIHs) of only one embryonic neuron in contrast to 55% of the neurons in posthatch animals. Generally, the embryonic auditory TIH displayed a modified quasi- Poisson distribution. Nonauditory units generally displayed regular (CV <0.5) or irregular (CV >0.5) activity and Gaussian and modified-Gaussian TIHs. Long silent periods or bursting patterns were not a characteristic of embryonic nonauditory neurons. CV varied systematically as a function of discharge rate in nonauditory but not auditory primary afferents. Minimum spike intervals (dead time) and interval modes for auditory neurons were longer in embryos (dead time: embryos 2.88 ± 6.85 ms; hatchlings 1.50 ± 1.76 ms; modal intervals: embryo 10.09 ± 22.50 ms, hatchling 3.54 ± 3.29 ms). The results show that significant developmental changes occur in spontaneous activity between E19 and posthatch. It is likely that both presynaptic and postsynaptic changes in the neuroepithelium contribute to maturational refinements during this period of development.
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