Hearing - Neural Pathway

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Central auditory neural pathway
Central auditory neural pathway

This diagram gives an overview of the central neural pathway from the cochlea through the brainstem nuclei to the auditory cortex. Note that this neural pathway can be analysed postnatally by Automated Auditory Brainstem Response.

  1. auditory nerve (cochlear nerve, acoustic nerve) part of the vestibulocochlear nerve (8th cranial nerve, CN VIII)
  2. cochlear nuclei (dorsal cochlear nucleus, ventral cochlear nucleus)
  3. superior olivary complex (SOC, superior olive)
  4. lateral lemniscus
  5. inferior colliculus
  6. medial geniculate nucleus
  7. auditory cortex

Hearing Links: Introduction | Science Lecture | Lecture Movie | Medicine Lecture | Inner Ear | Middle Ear | Outer Ear | Balance | Hearing - Neural Pathway | Stage 22 | Abnormalities | Neonatal Diagnosis - Hearing | Hearing test | Sensory Introduction | Placodes | Student project

Categories: Hearing | Outer Ear | Middle Ear | Inner Ear

Historic Hearing Embryology 
Historic Embryology: 1880 Platypus cochlea | 1902 Development of Hearing | 1906 Membranous Labyrinth | 1910 Auditory Nerve | 1913 Tectorial Membrane | 1918 Human Embryo Otic Capsule | 1918 Cochlea | 1918 Grays Anatomy | 1922 Human Auricle | 1922 Otic Primordia | 1931 Internal Ear Scalae | 1932 Otic Capsule 1 | 1933 Otic Capsule 2 | 1936 Otic Capsule 3 | 1933 Endolymphatic Sac | 1934 Otic Vesicle | 1934 Membranous Labyrinth | 1938 Stapes - 7 to 21 weeks | 1938 Stapes - Term to Adult | 1942 Stapes - Embryo 6.7 to 50 mm | 1943 Stapes - Fetus 75 to 150 mm | 1948 Stapes - Fetus 160 mm to term | 1959 Auditory Ossicles | 1963 Human Otocyst | Historic Disclaimer

Some Recent Findings

  • The precise temporal pattern of prehearing spontaneous activity is necessary for tonotopic map refinement[1] "Patterned spontaneous activity is a hallmark of developing sensory systems. In the auditory system, rhythmic bursts of spontaneous activity are generated in cochlear hair cells and propagated along central auditory pathways. The role of these activity patterns in the development of central auditory circuits has remained speculative....These results provide evidence that the precise temporal pattern of spontaneous activity before hearing onset is crucial for the establishment of precise tonotopy, the major organizing principle of central auditory pathways."
  • Formation and maturation of the calyx of Held[2] "Sound localization requires precise and specialized neural circuitry. A prominent and well-studied specialization is found in the mammalian auditory brainstem. Globular bushy cells of the ventral cochlear nucleus (VCN) project contralaterally to neurons of the medial nucleus of the trapezoid body (MNTB), where their large axons terminate on cell bodies of MNTB principal neurons, forming the calyces of Held. The VCN-MNTB pathway is necessary for the accurate computation of interaural intensity and time differences; MNTB neurons provide inhibitory input to the lateral superior olive, which compares levels of excitation from the ipsilateral ear to levels of tonotopically matched inhibition from the contralateral ear, and to the medial superior olive, where precise inhibition from MNTB neurons tunes the delays of binaural excitation. ... In rodents, immature calyces of Held appear in MNTB during the first few days of postnatal life. These calyces mature morphologically and physiologically over the next three postnatal weeks, enabling fast, high fidelity transmission in the VCN-MNTB pathway."
More recent papers
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This table shows an automated computer PubMed search using the listed sub-heading term.

  • Therefore the list of references do not reflect any editorial selection of material based on content or relevance.
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References listed on the rest of the content page and the associated discussion page (listed under the publication year sub-headings) do include some editorial selection based upon both relevance and availability.

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Search term: Hearing Neural Pathway Development

Rachel I Mayberry, Tristan Davenport, Austin Roth, Eric Halgren Neurolinguistic processing when the brain matures without language. Cortex: 2018, 99;390-403 PubMed 29406150

Duncan M Chadly, Jennifer Best, Cong Ran, Małgorzata Bruska, Witold Woźniak, Bartosz Kempisty, Mark Schwartz, Bonnie LaFleur, B J Kerns, John A Kessler, Akihiro J Matsuoka Developmental profiling of microRNAs in the human embryonic inner ear. PLoS ONE: 2018, 13(1);e0191452 PubMed 29373586

Rachael M Tillman, Melissa D Stockbridge, Brendon M Nacewicz, Salvatore Torrisi, Andrew S Fox, Jason F Smith, Alexander J Shackman Intrinsic functional connectivity of the central extended amygdala. Hum Brain Mapp: 2017; PubMed 29235190

Bret R Rutherford, Katharine Brewster, Justin S Golub, Ana H Kim, Steven P Roose Sensation and Psychiatry: Linking Age-Related Hearing Loss to Late-Life Depression and Cognitive Decline. Am J Psychiatry: 2017;appiajp201717040423 PubMed 29202654

Georgina T F Lynch, Stephen M James, Mark VanDam Pupillary Response and Phenotype in ASD: Latency to Constriction Discriminates ASD from Typically Developing Adolescents. Autism Res: 2017; PubMed 29087041

Vestibulocochlear Nerve

Afferent (sensory) cranial nerve brainstem primary terminal nuclei
Adult cochlea cartoon 01.jpg
Adult cochlea nerve glia cartoon[3]
  • forms beside otocyst
  • from wall of otocyst and neural crest cells
  • bipolar neurons

Vestibular Neurons

  • outer end of internal acoustic meatus
  • innervate hair cells in membranous labyrinth
  • axons project to brain stem and synapse in vestibular nucleus

Cochlear Neurons

  • cell bodies lie in modiolus
  • central pillar of cochlear
  • innervate hair cells of spiral organ
  • axons project to cochlear nucleus

Cochlea Glial

Cochlea glial lineage cartoon.jpg Adult cochlea nerve glia cartoon.jpg
Cochlea glial lineage [3] Adult cochlea nerve glia cartoon[3]

Auditory Sound Localization Circuits in the Mammalian Brainstem

Hearing sound localization circuits brainstem.jpg

Schematic drawing of primary auditory sound localization circuits in the mammalian brainstem. For clarity, only the LSO or MSO are shown on each side.[4]

Except for the auditory nerve, excitatory connections are shown in green and inhibitory connections are shown in red.

  • AN - auditory nerve
  • CN - cochlear nucleus
  • HF - high frequency
  • LF - low frequency

Links: Hearing - Inner Ear Development

Calyx of Held

A specialised mammalian auditory brainstem synaptic structure.[5] Ventral cochlear nucleus (VCN) globular bushy cells project to the contralateral, but not ipsilateral, medial nucleus of the trapezoid body (MNTB), where they form this specialised structure, named by Hans Held (1893).[6] The VCN-MNTB pathway is required for calculating the interaural intensity and time differences.


  1. Amanda Clause, Gunsoo Kim, Mandy Sonntag, Catherine J C Weisz, Douglas E Vetter, Rudolf Rűbsamen, Karl Kandler The precise temporal pattern of prehearing spontaneous activity is necessary for tonotopic map refinement. Neuron: 2014, 82(4);822-35 PubMed 24853941
  2. P N Roy, K S Mehra, P J Deshpande Cataract surgery performed before 800 B.C. Br J Ophthalmol: 1975, 59(3);171 PubMed 1093567
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Heiko Locher, John C M J de Groot, Liesbeth van Iperen, Margriet A Huisman, Johan H M Frijns, Susana M Chuva de Sousa Lopes Distribution and development of peripheral glial cells in the human fetal cochlea. PLoS ONE: 2014, 9(1);e88066 PubMed 24498246 | PLoS One.
  4. Karl Kandler, Amanda Clause, Jihyun Noh Tonotopic reorganization of developing auditory brainstem circuits. Nat. Neurosci.: 2009, 12(6);711-7 PubMed 19471270
  5. Paul A Nakamura, Karina S Cramer Formation and maturation of the calyx of Held. Hear. Res.: 2011, 276(1-2);70-8 PubMed 21093567
  6. Held H. Die zentrale Gehörleitung. (The Central Auditory Pathway) Arch Anat Physiol Anat Abtheil. 1893;17:201–248.


Karl Kandler, Amanda Clause, Jihyun Noh Tonotopic reorganization of developing auditory brainstem circuits. Nat. Neurosci.: 2009, 12(6);711-7 PubMed 19471270


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Cite this page: Hill, M.A. (2018, February 23) Embryology Hearing - Neural Pathway. Retrieved from https://embryology.med.unsw.edu.au/embryology/index.php/Hearing_-_Neural_Pathway

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© Dr Mark Hill 2018, UNSW Embryology ISBN: 978 0 7334 2609 4 - UNSW CRICOS Provider Code No. 00098G