Auditory neuropathies are linked to loss of temporal acuity of sound-evoked signals, which may be related to myelin loss. However, it is not known how myelin loss affects the waveform and temporal precision of action potentials (APs) in auditory CNS nerve terminals. Here we investigated the excitability of the calyx of Held nerve terminal in dysmyelinated auditory brainstems using the Long-Evans Shaker (LES) rat, a spontaneous mutant where compact myelin wrapping does not occur due to a genetic deletion of myelin basic protein. We found at relatively mature postnatal ages (15-17 d after birth) LES rat calyces showed prolonged spike latencies, indicative of a threefold reduction in the AP propagation velocity. Furthermore, LES rat afferent fiber-evoked APs showed a pronounced loss of temporal precision, even at low stimulation frequencies (10 Hz). While normal calyces were able to fire APs without failures at impressive rates of up to 1 kHz, LES calyces were unable to do so. Direct recordings of the presynaptic calyx terminal AP waveform revealed that myelin loss does not affect the AP spike upstroke and downstroke kinetics, but dysmyelination reduces the after-depolarization and enhances the fast after-hyperpolarization peak following the AP spike in the LES rat. Together these findings show that proper myelination is essential not only for fast AP propagation, but also for precise presynaptic AP firing that minimizes both spike jitter and failures, two characteristics critically important for the accurate processing of sound signals in the auditory brainstem.
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