Olivocochlear neurons make temporary cholinergic synapses on inner hair cells of the rodent cochlea in the first 2 to 3 wk after birth. Repetitive stimulation of these efferent neurons causes facilitation of evoked release and increased spontaneous release that continues for seconds to minutes. Presynaptic nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) are known to modulate neurotransmitter release from brain neurons. The present study explores the hypothesis that presynaptic nAChRs help to increase spontaneous release from efferent terminals on cochlear hair cells. Direct application of nicotine (which does not activate the hair cells’ a9a10-containing nAChRs) produces sustained efferent transmitter release, implicating presynaptic nAChRs in this response. The effect of nicotine was reduced by application of ryanodine that reduces release of calcium from intraterminal stores.
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