Auditory nerve fibers (ANFs) exhibit a range of spontaneous firing rates (SRs) that are inversely correlated with threshold for sounds. To probe the underlying mechanisms and time course of SR differentiation during cochlear maturation, loose-patch extracellular recordings were made from ANF dendrites using acutely excised rat cochlear preparations of different ages after hearing onset. Diversification of SRs occurred mostly between the second and the third postnatal week. Statistical properties of ANF spike trains showed developmental changes that approach adult-like features in older preparations. Comparison with intracellularly recorded EPSCs revealed that most properties of ANF spike trains derive from the characteristics of presynaptic transmitter release. Pharmacological tests and waveform analysis showed that endogenous firing produces some fraction of ANF spikes, accounting for their unusual properties; the endogenous firing diminishes gradually during maturation. Paired recordings showed that ANFs contacting the same inner hair cell could have different SRs, with no correlation in their spike timing.
SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT The inner hair cell (IHC)/auditory nerve fiber (ANF) synapse is the first synapse of the auditory pathway. Remarkably, each IHC is the sole partner of 10–30 ANFs with a range of spontaneous firing rates (SRs). Low and high SR ANFs respond to sound differently, and both are important for encoding sound information across varying acoustical environments. Here we demonstrate SR diversification after hearing onset by afferent recordings in acutely excised rat cochlear preparations. We describe developmental changes in spike train statistics and endogenous firing in immature ANFs. Dual afferent recordings provide the first direct evidence that fibers with different SRs contact the same IHCs and do not show correlated spike timing at rest. These results lay the groundwork for understanding the differential sensitivity of ANFs to acoustic trauma.