Specificity in the projections from the mammalian ventral cochlear nucleus (VCN) is essential for sound localization. Globular bushy cells project from the VCN to the medial nucleus of the trapezoid body (MNTB) on the contralateral, but not the ipsilateral, side of the brainstem, terminating in large synaptic endings known as calyces of Held. The precision in this pathway is critical for the computation of interaural intensity differences, which are used in sound localization. The mechanisms underlying the development of this projection are not completely understood. In this study, we tested the role of Eph receptor tyrosine kinases and their ephrin ligands in limiting the VCN-MNTB projection to the contralateral side. We found that mice with null mutations in EphB2 and EphB3 had normal contralateral VCN-MNTB projections, yet these projections also had significant numbers of aberrant collateral branches in the ipsilateral MNTB. These aberrant branches ended in calyceal terminations in MNTB. Similar ipsilateral projections were seen in mice with mutations in ephrin-B2. In both of these mouse lines, ipsilateral projections formed concurrently with normal contralateral projections and were not eliminated later in development. However, mice with mutations that affected only the intracellular domain of EphB2 had normal, strictly contralateral VCN-MNTB projections. Expression studies showed that EphB2 is expressed in VCN axons and ephrin-B2 is expressed in MNTB. Together, these data suggest that EphB2-ephrin-B2 reverse signaling is required to prevent the formation of ipsilateral VCN-MNTB projections and that this signaling operates non-cell autonomously.
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