Ascending projections of the dorsal cochlear nucleus (DCN) target primarily the contralateral inferior colliculus (IC). In turn, the IC sends bilateral descending projections back to the DCN. We sought to determine the nature of these descending axons in order to infer circuit mechanisms of signal processing at one of the earliest stages of the central auditory pathway. An anterograde tracer was injected in the IC of CBA/Ca mice to reveal terminal characteristics of the descending axons. Retrograde tracer deposits were made in the DCN of CBA/Ca and transgenic GAD67–EGFP mice to investigate the cells giving rise to these projections. A multiunit best frequency was determined for each injection site. Brains were processed by using standard histologic methods for visualization and examined by fluorescent, brightfield, and electron microscopy. Descending projections from the IC were inferred to be excitatory because the cell bodies of retrogradely labeled neurons did not colabel with EGFP expression in neurons of GAD67–EGFP mice. Furthermore, additional experiments yielded no glycinergic or cholinergic positive cells in the IC, and descending projections to the DCN were colabeled with antibodies against VGluT2, a glutamate transporter. Anterogradely labeled endings in the DCN formed asymmetric postsynaptic densities, a feature of excitatory neurotransmission. These descending projections to the DCN from the IC were topographic and suggest a feedback pathway that could underlie a frequency-specific enhancement of some acoustic signals and suppression of others. The involvement of this IC–DCN circuit is especially noteworthy when considering the gating of ascending signal streams for auditory processing. J. Comp. Neurol. 525:773–793, 2017.
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