Connexin 26 (Cx26, GJB2) mutations are the major cause of hereditary deafness and are responsible for >50% of nonsyndromic hearing loss. Mouse models show that Cx26 deficiency can cause congenital deafness with cochlear developmental disorders, hair cell degeneration, and the reduction of endocochlear potential (EP) and active cochlear amplification. However, the underlying deafness mechanism still remains undetermined. Our previous studies revealed that hair cell degeneration is not a primary cause of hearing loss. In this study we investigated the role of EP reduction in Cx26 deficiency-induced deafness. We found that the EP reduction is not associated with congenital deafness in Cx26 knockout (KO) mice. The threshold of auditory brainstem response (ABR) in Cx26 KO mice was even greater than 110 dB SPL, demonstrating complete hearing loss. However, the EP in Cx26 KO mice varied and not completely abolished. In some cases, the EP could still remain at higher levels (>70 mV). We further found that the deafness in Cx26 KO mice is associated with cochlear developmental disorders. Deletion of Cx26 in the cochlea before postnatal day 5 (P5) could cause congenital deafness. The cochlea had developmental disorders and the cochlear tunnel was not open. However, no congenital deafness was found when Cx26 was deleted after P5. The cochlea also displayed normal development and the cochlear tunnel was open normally. These data suggest that congenital deafness induced by Cx26 deficiency is not determined by EP reduction and may result from cochlear developmental disorders.
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