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 | inner ear | middle ear | outer ear | balance | placode | hearing neural | Science Lecture | Lecture Movie | Medicine Lecture | Stage 22 | hearing abnormalities | hearing test | sensory | Student project

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

Historic Embryology - Hearing 
Historic Embryology: 1880 Platypus cochlea | 1892 Vertebrate Ear | 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 | 1934 External Ear | 1938 Stapes - 7 to 21 weeks | 1938 Stapes - Term to Adult | 1940 Stapes | 1942 Stapes - Embryo 6.7 to 50 mm | 1943 Stapes - Fetus 75 to 150 mm | 1946 Aquaductus cochleae and periotic (perilymphatic) duct | 1946 aquaeductus cochleae | 1948 Fissula ante fenestram | 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."
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Search term: Hearing Neural Pathway Development

<pubmed limit=5>Hearing Neural Pathway Development</pubmed>

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]


  1. <pubmed>24853941</pubmed>
  2. <pubmed>1093567</pubmed>
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 <pubmed>24498246</pubmed>| PLoS One.
  4. <pubmed>19471270</pubmed>
  5. <pubmed>21093567</pubmed>
  6. Held H. Die zentrale Gehörleitung. (The Central Auditory Pathway) Arch Anat Physiol Anat Abtheil. 1893;17:201–248.


<pubmed></pubmed> <pubmed></pubmed> <pubmed></pubmed> <pubmed>19471270</pubmed>


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Cite this page: Hill, M.A. (2021, October 26) 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 2021, UNSW Embryology ISBN: 978 0 7334 2609 4 - UNSW CRICOS Provider Code No. 00098G