Glutamatergic synaptic transmission is essential for binaural auditory processing in birds and mammals. Using whole cell voltage clamp recordings, we characterized the development of synaptic ionotropic glutamate receptor (iGluR) function from auditory neurons in the chick nucleus laminaris (NL), the first nucleus responsible for binaural processing. We show that synaptic transmission is mediated by AMPA- and N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA)-type glutamate receptors (AMPA-R and NMDA-R, respectively) when hearing is first emerging and dendritic morphology is being established across different sound frequency regions. Puff application of glutamate agonists at embryonic day 9 (E9) revealed that both iGluRs are functionally present prior to synapse formation (E10). Between E11 and E19, the amplitude of isolated AMPA-R currents from high-frequency (HF) neurons increased 14-fold. A significant increase in the frequency of spontaneous events is also observed. Additionally, AMPA-R currents become faster and more rectifying, suggesting developmental changes in subunit composition. These developmental changes were similar in all tonotopic regions examined. However, mid- and low-frequency neurons exhibit fewer spontaneous events and evoked AMPA-R currents are smaller, slower, and less rectifying than currents from age-matched HF neurons. The amplitude of isolated NMDA-R currents from HF neurons also increased, reaching a peak at E17 and declining sharply by E19, a trend consistent across tonotopic regions. With age, NMDA-R kinetics become significantly faster, indicating a developmental switch in receptor subunit composition. Dramatic increases in the amplitude and speed of glutamatergic synaptic transmission occurs in NL during embryonic development. These changes are first seen in HF neurons suggesting regulation by peripheral inputs and may be necessary to enhance coincidence detection of binaural auditory information.
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