UCL Ear Institute


Signalling in the auditory nerve


Spiral ganglion neurons (SGN) are the first nerve cells in the auditory pathway. They are activated by hair cells in the cochlea, and transmit an electrical code which describes the auditory world to the brain. These nerve cells are stimulated by the electrodes of a cochlear implant, and so act as a potential gateway to the hearing brain for profoundly deaf people. Although they are an essential part of the machinery of our hearing, the function of SGN is not well understood. We aim to characterize the ion channel-dependent signalling mechanisms within these cells, to create a better understanding of their primary functions, and to reveal potential therapeutic manipulations to alleviate hearing loss.

We are also investigating the role of specialised glial cells within the auditory nerve. Glia are responsible for homeostasis within the nervous system, providing the ideal environment for neurons to carry out their electrical signalling in the most efficient fashion. The functions of glial cells are relevant to normal hearing, and also during the process of electrical hearing via cochlear implants where surviving neurons are essential for the transfer of information to the brain.

Relevant Publications

  • See our full publication list
  • Smith KE, Browne L, Selwood D, McAlpine D, Jagger DJ. Phosphoinositide Modulation of Heteromeric Kv1 Channels Adjusts Output of Spiral Ganglion Neurons from Hearing Mice. Journal of Neuroscience 35, 11221-11232, 2015.
  • Ballestero, J., Recugnat, M., Laudanski J., Smith, K.E., Jagger, D.J., Gnansia, D., McAlpine, D. Reducing current spread by use of a novel pulse shape for electrical stimulation of the auditory nerve. Trends in Hearing 19, 1-12, 2015.