Moser T, Karagulyan N, Neef J, Jaime Tobon LM
EMBO J. 2023.e114587.
Our sense of hearing enables the processing of stimuli that differ in sound pressure by more than six orders of magnitude. How to process a wide range of stimulus intensities with temporal precision is an enigmatic phenomenon of the auditory system. Downstream of dynamic range compression by active cochlear micromechanics, the inner hair cells (IHCs) cover the full intensity range of sound input. Yet, the firing rate in each of their postsynaptic spiral ganglion neurons (SGNs) encodes only a fraction of it. As a population, spiral ganglion neurons with their respective individual coding fractions cover the entire audible range. How such “dynamic range fractionation” arises is a topic of current research and the focus of this review. Here, we discuss mechanisms for generating the diverse functional properties of SGNs and formulate testable hypotheses. We postulate that an interplay of synaptic heterogeneity, molecularly distinct subtypes of SGNs, and efferent modulation serves the neural decomposition of sound information and thus contributes to a population code for sound intensity.