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Enhancement of the Medial Olivocochlear System Prevents Hidden Hearing Loss

Boero, L.E.; Castagna, V.C.; Di Guilmi, M.N.; Goutman, J.D.; Elgoyhen, A.Belén.; Gómez-Casati, Mía.Eugenia.

Journal of Neuroscience the Official Journal of the Society for Neuroscience 38(34): 7440-7451

2018


ISSN/ISBN: 0270-6474
PMID: 30030403
DOI: 10.1523/jneurosci.0363-18.2018
Accession: 061882678

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Cochlear synaptopathy produced by exposure to noise levels that cause only transient auditory threshold elevations is a condition that affects many people and is believed to contribute to poor speech discrimination in noisy environments. These functional deficits in hearing, without changes in sensitivity, have been called hidden hearing loss (HHL). It has been proposed that activity of the medial olivocochlear (MOC) system can ameliorate acoustic trauma effects. Here we explore the role of the MOC system in HHL by comparing the performance of two different mouse models: an α9 nicotinic receptor subunit knock-out (KO; Chrna9 KO), which lacks cholinergic transmission between efferent neurons and hair cells; and a gain-of-function knock-in (KI; Chrna9L9'T KI) carrying an α9 point mutation that leads to enhanced cholinergic activity. Animals of either sex were exposed to sound pressure levels that in wild-type produced transient cochlear threshold shifts and a decrease in neural response amplitudes, together with the loss of ribbon synapses, which is indicative of cochlear synaptopathy. Moreover, a reduction in the number of efferent contacts to outer hair cells was observed. In Chrna9 KO ears, noise exposure produced permanent auditory threshold elevations together with cochlear synaptopathy. In contrast, the Chrna9L9'T KI was completely resistant to the same acoustic exposure protocol. These results show a positive correlation between the degree of HHL prevention and the level of cholinergic activity. Notably, enhancement of the MOC feedback promoted new afferent synapse formation, suggesting that it can trigger cellular and molecular mechanisms to protect and/or repair the inner ear sensory epithelium.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Noise overexposure is a major cause of a variety of perceptual disabilities, including speech-in-noise difficulties, tinnitus, and hyperacusis. Here we show that exposure to noise levels that do not cause permanent threshold elevations or hair cell death can produce a loss of cochlear nerve synapses to inner hair cells as well as degeneration of medial olivocochlear (MOC) terminals contacting the outer hair cells. Enhancement of the MOC reflex can prevent both types of neuropathy, highlighting the potential use of drugs that increase α9α10 nicotinic cholinergic receptor activity as a pharmacotherapeutic strategy to avoid hidden hearing loss.

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