The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience

Aging after noise exposure: acceleration of cochlear synaptopathy in "recovered" ears.

PMID 25972177


Cochlear synaptic loss, rather than hair cell death, is the earliest sign of damage in both noise- and age-related hearing impairment (Kujawa and Liberman, 2009; Sergeyenko et al., 2013). Here, we compare cochlear aging after two types of noise exposure: one producing permanent synaptic damage without hair cell loss and another producing neither synaptopathy nor hair cell loss. Adult mice were exposed (8-16 kHz, 100 or 91 dB SPL for 2 h) and then evaluated from 1 h to ∼ 20 months after exposure. Cochlear function was assessed via distortion product otoacoustic emissions and auditory brainstem responses (ABRs). Cochlear whole mounts and plastic sections were studied to quantify hair cells, cochlear neurons, and the synapses connecting them. The synaptopathic noise (100 dB) caused 35-50 dB threshold shifts at 24 h. By 2 weeks, thresholds had recovered, but synaptic counts and ABR amplitudes at high frequencies were reduced by up to ∼ 45%. As exposed animals aged, synaptopathy was exacerbated compared with controls and spread to lower frequencies. Proportional ganglion cell losses followed. Threshold shifts first appeared >1 year after exposure and, by ∼ 20 months, were up to 18 dB greater in the synaptopathic noise group. Outer hair cell losses were exacerbated in the same time frame (∼ 10% at 32 kHz). In contrast, the 91 dB exposure, producing transient threshold shift without acute synaptopathy, showed no acceleration of synaptic loss or cochlear dysfunction as animals aged, at least to ∼ 1 year after exposure. Therefore, interactions between noise and aging may require an acute synaptopathy, but a single synaptopathic exposure can accelerate cochlear aging.