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1.  Lack of nAChR Activity Depresses Cochlear Maturation and Up-Regulates GABA System Components: Temporal Profiling of Gene Expression in α9 Null Mice 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(2):e9058.
It has previously been shown that deletion of chrna9, the gene encoding the α9 nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR) subunit, results in abnormal synaptic terminal structure. Additionally, all nAChR-mediated cochlear activity is lost, as characterized by a failure of the descending efferent system to suppress cochlear responses to sound. In an effort to characterize the molecular mechanisms underlying the structural and functional consequences following loss of α9 subunit expression, we performed whole-transcriptome gene expression analyses on cochleae of wild type and α9 knockout (α9−/−) mice during postnatal days spanning critical periods of synapse formation and maturation.
Principal Findings
Data revealed that loss of α9 receptor subunit expression leads to an up-regulation of genes involved in synaptic transmission and ion channel activity. Unexpectedly, loss of α9 receptor subunit expression also resulted in an increased expression of genes encoding GABA receptor subunits and the GABA synthetic enzyme, glutamic acid decarboxylase. These data suggest the existence of a previously unrecognized association between the nicotinic cholinergic and GABAergic systems in the cochlea. Computational analyses have highlighted differential expression of several gene sets upon loss of nicotinic cholinergic activity in the cochlea. Time-series analysis of whole transcriptome patterns, represented as self-organizing maps, revealed a disparate pattern of gene expression between α9−/− and wild type cochleae at the onset of hearing (P13), with knockout samples resembling immature postnatal ages.
We have taken a systems biology approach to provide insight into molecular programs influenced by the loss of nicotinic receptor-based cholinergic activity in the cochlea and to identify candidate genes that may be involved in nicotinic cholinergic synapse formation, stabilization or function within the inner ear. Additionally, our data indicate a change in the GABAergic system upon loss of α9 nicotinic receptor subunit within the cochlea.
PMCID: PMC2816210  PMID: 20140217
2.  The Nicotinic Receptor of Cochlear Hair Cells: A Possible Pharmacotherapeutic Target? 
Biochemical pharmacology  2009;78(7):712-719.
Mechanosensory hair cells of the organ of Corti transmit information regarding sound to the central nervous system by way of peripheral afferent neurons. In return, the central nervous system provides feedback and modulates the afferent stream of information through efferent neurons. The medial olivocochlear efferent system makes direct synaptic contacts with outer hair cells and inhibits amplification brought about by the active mechanical process inherent to these cells. This feedback system offers the potential to improve the detection of signals in background noise, to selectively attend to particular signals, and to protect the periphery from damage caused by overly loud sounds. Acetylcholine released at the synapse between efferent terminals and outer hair cells activates a peculiar nicotinic cholinergic receptor subtype, the α9α10 receptor. At present no pharmacotherapeutic approaches have been designed that target this cholinergic receptor to treat pathologies of the auditory system. The potential use of α9α10 selective drugs in conditions such as noise-induced hearing loss, tinnitus and auditory processing disorders is discussed.
PMCID: PMC2737545  PMID: 19481062
nicotinic cholinergic receptors; noise trauma; cochlea; tinnitus; efferent feedback
3.  Efferent Feedback Minimizes Cochlear Neuropathy from Moderate Noise Exposure 
Although protective effects of the cochlea’s efferent feedback pathways have been well documented, prior work has focused on hair cell damage and cochlear threshold elevation and, correspondingly, on the high sound pressure levels (> 100 dB SPL) necessary to produce them. Here we explore the noise-induced loss of cochlear neurons that occurs with lower intensity exposures and in the absence of permanent threshold shifts. Using confocal microscopy to count synapses between hair cells and cochlear nerve fibers, and using measurement of auditory brainstem responses and otoacoustic emissions to assess cochlear pre- and post-synaptic function, we compare the damage from a weeklong exposure to moderate-level noise (84 dB SPL) in mice with varying degrees of cochlear de-efferentation induced by surgical lesion to the olivocochlear pathway. Such exposure causes minimal acute threshold shift and no chronic shifts in mice with normal efferent feedback. In de-efferented animals, there was up to 40% loss of cochlear nerve synapses and a corresponding decline in the amplitude of the auditory brainstem response. Quantitative analysis of the de-efferentation in inner vs. outer hair cell areas suggested that outer hair cell efferents are most important in minimizing this neuropathy, presumably by virtue of their sound-evoked feedback reduction of cochlear amplification. The moderate nature of this acoustic overexposure suggests that cochlear neurons are at risk even in everyday acoustic environments, and, thus, that the need for cochlear protection is plausible as a driving force in the design of this feedback pathway.
PMCID: PMC3640841  PMID: 23536069
Auditory neuropathy; olivocochlear; hair cells; cochlea; noise; acoustic injury; feedback
4.  Constitutive Expression of the α10 Nicotinic Acetylcholine Receptor Subunit Fails to Maintain Cholinergic Responses in Inner Hair Cells After the Onset of Hearing 
Efferent inhibition of cochlear hair cells is mediated by α9α10 nicotinic cholinergic receptors (nAChRs) functionally coupled to calcium-activated, small conductance (SK2) potassium channels. Before the onset of hearing, efferent fibers transiently make functional cholinergic synapses with inner hair cells (IHCs). The retraction of these fibers after the onset of hearing correlates with the cessation of transcription of the Chrna10 (but not the Chrna9) gene in IHCs. To further analyze this developmental change, we generated a transgenic mice whose IHCs constitutively express α10 into adulthood by expressing the α10 cDNA under the control of the Pou4f3 gene promoter. In situ hybridization showed that the α10 mRNA is expressed in IHCs of 8-week-old transgenic mice, but not in wild-type mice. Moreover, this mRNA is translated into a functional protein, since IHCs from P8-P10 α10 transgenic mice backcrossed to a Chrna10−/− background (whose IHCs have no cholinergic function) displayed normal synaptic and acetylcholine (ACh)-evoked currents in patch-clamp recordings. Thus, the α10 transgene restored nAChR function. However, in the α10 transgenic mice, no synaptic or ACh-evoked currents were observed in P16-18 IHCs, indicating developmental down-regulation of functional nAChRs after the onset of hearing, as normally observed in wild-type mice. The lack of functional ACh currents correlated with the lack of SK2 currents. These results indicate that multiple features of the efferent postsynaptic complex to IHCs, in addition to the nAChR subunits, are down-regulated in synchrony after the onset of hearing, leading to lack of responses to ACh.
PMCID: PMC3084387  PMID: 19452222
nicotinic cholinergic receptors; efferent medial olivocochlear; SK2 channel; acetylcholine; transgenic mice
5.  Electrical Properties and Functional Expression of Ionic Channels in Cochlear Inner Hair Cells of Mice Lacking the α10 Nicotinic Cholinergic Receptor Subunit 
Cochlear inner hair cells (IHCs) release neurotransmitter onto afferent auditory nerve fibers in response to sound stimulation. During early development, synaptic transmission is triggered by spontaneous Ca2+ spikes which are modulated by an efferent cholinergic innervation to IHCs. This synapse is inhibitory and mediated by the α9α10 nicotinic cholinergic receptor (nAChR). After the onset of hearing, large-conductance Ca2+-activated K+ channels are acquired and both the spiking activity and the efferent innervation disappear from IHCs. In this work, we studied the developmental changes in the membrane properties of cochlear IHCs from α10 nAChR gene (Chrna10) “knockout” mice. Electrophysiological properties of IHCs were studied by whole-cell recordings in acutely excised apical turns of the organ of Corti from developing mice. Neither the spiking activity nor the developmental functional expression of voltage-gated and/or calcium-sensitive K+ channels is altered in the absence of the α10 nAChR subunit. The present results show that the α10 nAChR subunit is not essential for the correct establishment of the intrinsic electrical properties of IHCs during development.
PMCID: PMC2674205  PMID: 19252947
calcium spikes; voltage-gated K+ channels; calcium-sensitive K+ channels; cholinergic; development; auditory
6.  Localization of Synucleins in the Mammalian Cochlea 
Synucleins are widely expressed synaptic proteins within the central nervous system that have been implicated in such neurodegenerative disorders as Parkinson’s disease. In this study, an initial characterization of all three synucleins, α-, β-, and γ-synuclein, within the cochlea was undertaken. Reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction (PCR) demonstrated all three synuclein mRNA species within microdissected cochlear tissue. Quantitative PCR suggests that β-synuclein is the most abundantly expressed form, followed by γ- and then α-synuclein. Western blot analysis similarly demonstrates all three synuclein proteins within microdissected cochlear tissue. Immunofluorescence localizes the three synucleins predominantly to the efferent neuronal system at the efferent outer hair cell synapse, with some additional localization within the efferent tunnel-crossing fibers (α- and γ-synuclein), spiral ganglion (β-synuclein), inner spiral bundle (γ-synuclein), and stria vascularis (α- > β-synuclein). Developmentally, γ-synuclein can be seen in the region of the outer hair cells by E19, while α- and β-synuclein do not clearly appear there until ~P10. Addi-tional studies in a null-mutant γ-synuclein mouse show no histological changes in the organ of Corti with normal hair cell and spiral ganglion cell counts, and normal ABR and DPOAE thresholds in wild-type vs mutant littermates. Together, these results localize synucleins to the efferent cholinergic neuronal auditory system, pointing to a role in normal auditory function, and raising the potential implications for their role in auditory neurodegenerative disorders. However, γ-synuclein alone is not required for the development and maintenance of normal hearing through P21. Whether overlapping roles of the other synucleins help compensate for the loss of γ-synuclein remains to be determined.
PMCID: PMC2580813  PMID: 18665422
synuclein; alpha-synuclein; beta-synuclein; gamma-synuclein; α-synuclein; β-synuclein; γ-synuclein; efferent; auditory; cochlea; nicotinic acetylcholine receptor; outer hair cell; inner hair cell; hearing; synapse
7.  Activation of Presynaptic GABAB(1a,2) Receptors Inhibits Synaptic Transmission at Mammalian Inhibitory Cholinergic Olivocochlear–Hair Cell Synapses 
The Journal of Neuroscience  2013;33(39):15477-15487.
The synapse between olivocochlear (OC) neurons and cochlear mechanosensory hair cells is cholinergic, fast, and inhibitory. The inhibitory sign of this cholinergic synapse is accounted for by the activation of Ca2+-permeable postsynaptic α9α10 nicotinic receptors coupled to the opening of hyperpolarizing Ca2+-activated small-conductance type 2 (SK2)K+ channels. Acetylcholine (ACh) release at this synapse is supported by both P/Q- and N-type voltage-gated calcium channels (VGCCs). Although the OC synapse is cholinergic, an abundant OC GABA innervation is present along the mammalian cochlea. The role of this neurotransmitter at the OC efferent innervation, however, is for the most part unknown. We show that GABA fails to evoke fast postsynaptic inhibitory currents in apical developing inner and outer hair cells. However, electrical stimulation of OC efferent fibers activates presynaptic GABAB(1a,2) receptors [GABAB(1a,2)Rs] that downregulate the amount of ACh released at the OC–hair cell synapse, by inhibiting P/Q-type VGCCs. We confirmed the expression of GABABRs at OC terminals contacting the hair cells by coimmunostaining for GFP and synaptophysin in transgenic mice expressing GABAB1–GFP fusion proteins. Moreover, coimmunostaining with antibodies against the GABA synthetic enzyme glutamic acid decarboxylase and synaptophysin support the idea that GABA is directly synthesized at OC terminals contacting the hair cells during development. Thus, we demonstrate for the first time a physiological role for GABA in cochlear synaptic function. In addition, our data suggest that the GABAB1a isoform selectively inhibits release at efferent cholinergic synapses.
PMCID: PMC3782624  PMID: 24068816
8.  Efferent Feedback Slows Cochlear Aging 
The Journal of Neuroscience  2014;34(13):4599-4607.
The inner ear receives two types of efferent feedback from the brainstem: one pathway provides gain control on outer hair cells' contribution to cochlear amplification, and the other modulates the excitability of the cochlear nerve. Although efferent feedback can protect hair cells from acoustic injury and thereby minimize noise-induced permanent threshold shifts, most prior studies focused on high-intensity exposures (>100 dB SPL). Here, we show that efferents are essential for long-term maintenance of cochlear function in mice aged 1 year post-de-efferentation without purposeful acoustic overexposure. Cochlear de-efferentation was achieved by surgical lesion of efferent pathways in the brainstem and was assessed by quantitative analysis of immunostained efferent terminals in outer and inner hair cell areas. The resultant loss of efferent feedback accelerated the age-related amplitude reduction in cochlear neural responses, as seen in auditory brainstem responses, and increased the loss of synapses between hair cells and the terminals of cochlear nerve fibers, as seen in confocal analysis of the organ of Corti immunostained for presynaptic and postsynaptic markers. This type of neuropathy, also seen after moderate noise exposure, has been termed “hidden hearing loss”, because it does not affect thresholds, but can be seen in the suprathreshold amplitudes of cochlear neural responses, and likely causes problems with hearing in a noisy environment, a classic symptom of age-related hearing loss in humans. Since efferent reflex strength varies among individuals and can be measured noninvasively, a weak reflex may be an important risk factor, and prognostic indicator, for age-related hearing impairment.
PMCID: PMC3965785  PMID: 24672005
auditory neuropathy; feedback; hair cells; hearing conservation
9.  Modulation of hair cell efferents 
Hearing research  2010;279(1-2):1-12.
Outer hair cells (OHCs) amplify the sound-evoked motion of the basilar membrane to enhance acoustic sensitivity and frequency selectivity. Medial olivocochlear (MOC) efferents inhibit OHCs to reduce the sound-evoked response of cochlear afferent neurons. OHC inhibition occurs through the activation of postsynaptic α9α10 nicotinic receptors tightly coupled to calcium-dependent SK2 channels that hyperpolarize the hair cell. MOC neurons are cholinergic but a number of other neurotransmitters and neuromodulators have been proposed to participate in efferent transmission, with emerging evidence for both pre- and postsynaptic effects. Cochlear inhibition in vivo is maximized by repetitive activation of the efferents, reflecting facilitation and summation of transmitter release onto outer hair cells. This review summarizes recent studies on cellular and molecular mechanisms of cholinergic inhibition and the regulation of those molecular components, in particular the involvement of intracellular calcium. Facilitation at the efferent synapse is compared in a variety of animals, as well as other possible mechanisms of modulation of ACh release. These results suggest that short-term plasticity contributes to effective cholinergic inhibition of hair cells.
PMCID: PMC3125486  PMID: 21187136
10.  Short-term plasticity and modulation of synaptic transmission at mammalian inhibitory cholinergic olivocochlear synapses 
The organ of Corti, the mammalian sensory epithelium of the inner ear, has two types of mechanoreceptor cells, inner hair cells (IHCs) and outer hair cells (OHCs). In this sensory epithelium, vibrations produced by sound waves are transformed into electrical signals. When depolarized by incoming sounds, IHCs release glutamate and activate auditory nerve fibers innervating them and OHCs, by virtue of their electromotile property, increase the amplification and fine tuning of sound signals. The medial olivocochlear (MOC) system, an efferent feedback system, inhibits OHC activity and thereby reduces the sensitivity and sharp tuning of cochlear afferent fibers. During neonatal development, IHCs fire Ca2+ action potentials which evoke glutamate release promoting activity in the immature auditory system in the absence of sensory stimuli. During this period, MOC fibers also innervate IHCs and are thought to modulate their firing rate. Both the MOC-OHC and the MOC-IHC synapses are cholinergic, fast and inhibitory and mediated by the α9α10 nicotinic cholinergic receptor (nAChR) coupled to the activation of calcium-activated potassium channels that hyperpolarize the hair cells. In this review we discuss the biophysical, functional and molecular data which demonstrate that at the synapses between MOC efferent fibers and cochlear hair cells, modulation of transmitter release as well as short term synaptic plasticity mechanisms, operating both at the presynaptic terminal and at the postsynaptic hair-cell, determine the efficacy of these synapses and shape the hair cell response pattern.
PMCID: PMC4251319  PMID: 25520631
medial olivocochlear system; efferent innervation; cochlear hair cells; synaptic transmission; calcium channels; calcium-activated potassium channels; GABAB receptors; short-term synaptic plasticity
11.  Muscarinic Signaling in the Cochlea: Presynaptic and Postsynaptic Effects on Efferent Feedback and Afferent Excitability 
The Journal of Neuroscience  2010;30(19):6751-6762.
Acetylcholine is the major neurotransmitter of the olivocochlear efferent system, which provides feedback to cochlear hair cells and sensory neurons. To study the role of cochlear muscarinic receptors, we studied receptor localization with immunohistochemistry and reverse transcription-PCR and measured olivocochlear function, cochlear responses, and histopathology in mice with targeted deletion of each of the five receptor subtypes. M2, M4, and M5 were detected in microdissected immature (postnatal days 10–13) inner hair cells and spiral ganglion cells but not outer hair cells. In the adult (6 weeks), the same transcripts were found in microdissected organ of Corti and spiral ganglion samples. M2 protein was found, by immunohistochemistry, in olivocochlear fibers in both outer and inner hair cell areas. M3 mRNA was amplified only from whole cochleas, and M1 message was never seen in wild-type ears. Auditory brainstem responses (ABRs) and distortion product otoacoustic emissions (DPOAEs) were unaffected by loss of Gq-coupled receptors (M1, M3, or M5), as were shock-evoked olivocochlear effects and vulnerability to acoustic injury. In contrast, loss of Gi-coupled receptors (M2 and/or M4) decreased neural responses without affecting DPOAEs (at low frequencies). This phenotype and the expression pattern are consistent with excitatory muscarinic signaling in cochlear sensory neurons. At high frequencies, both ABRs and DPOAEs were attenuated by loss of M2 and/or M4, and the vulnerability to acoustic injury was dramatically decreased. This aspect of the phenotype and the expression pattern are consistent with a presynaptic role for muscarinic autoreceptors in decreasing ACh release from olivocochlear terminals during high-level acoustic stimulation and suggest that muscarinic antagonists could enhance the resistance of the inner ear to noise-induced hearing loss.
PMCID: PMC3332094  PMID: 20463237
12.  Mutation of Npr2 Leads to Blurred Tonotopic Organization of Central Auditory Circuits in Mice 
PLoS Genetics  2014;10(12):e1004823.
Tonotopy is a fundamental organizational feature of the auditory system. Sounds are encoded by the spatial and temporal patterns of electrical activity in spiral ganglion neurons (SGNs) and are transmitted via tonotopically ordered processes from the cochlea through the eighth nerve to the cochlear nuclei. Upon reaching the brainstem, SGN axons bifurcate in a stereotyped pattern, innervating target neurons in the anteroventral cochlear nucleus (aVCN) with one branch and in the posteroventral and dorsal cochlear nuclei (pVCN and DCN) with the other. Each branch is tonotopically organized, thereby distributing acoustic information systematically along multiple parallel pathways for processing in the brainstem. In mice with a mutation in the receptor guanylyl cyclase Npr2, this spatial organization is disrupted. Peripheral SGN processes appear normal, but central SGN processes fail to bifurcate and are disorganized as they exit the auditory nerve. Within the cochlear nuclei, the tonotopic organization of the SGN terminal arbors is blurred and the aVCN is underinnervated with a reduced convergence of SGN inputs onto target neurons. The tonotopy of circuitry within the cochlear nuclei is also degraded, as revealed by changes in the topographic mapping of tuberculoventral cell projections from DCN to VCN. Nonetheless, Npr2 mutant SGN axons are able to transmit acoustic information with normal sensitivity and timing, as revealed by auditory brainstem responses and electrophysiological recordings from VCN neurons. Although most features of signal transmission are normal, intermittent failures were observed in responses to trains of shocks, likely due to a failure in action potential conduction at branch points in Npr2 mutant afferent fibers. Our results show that Npr2 is necessary for the precise spatial organization typical of central auditory circuits, but that signals are still transmitted with normal timing, and that mutant mice can hear even with these deficits.
Author Summary
Millions of people suffer from debilitating hearing defects, ranging from a complete inability to detect sound to more subtle changes in how sounds are encoded by the nervous system. Many forms of deafness are due to mutations in genes that impair the development or function of hair cells, which are responsible for changing sound into electrical signals that can be processed by the brain. Both mice and humans carrying these mutations fail standard hearing tests. In contrast, very little is known about the genetic basis of central auditory processing disorders, which are poorly defined and difficult to diagnose, since these patients can still detect sounds. By finding genes that are required for the normal wiring of central auditory circuits in mice, we can investigate how changes at the circuit level affect circuit function and therefore improve our understanding of central auditory processing disorders. Here, we show that the natriuretic peptide receptor Npr2 is required to establish frequency maps in the mouse central auditory system. Surprisingly, despite a dramatic change in circuit organization, Npr2 mutant mice are still able to respond to sounds with normal sensitivity and timing, underscoring the need for better hearing diagnostic methods in mice as in humans.
PMCID: PMC4256264  PMID: 25473838
13.  Neurotrophin-3 regulates ribbon synapse density in the cochlea and induces synapse regeneration after acoustic trauma 
eLife  2014;3:e03564.
Neurotrophin-3 (Ntf3) and brain derived neurotrophic factor (Bdnf) are critical for sensory neuron survival and establishment of neuronal projections to sensory epithelia in the embryonic inner ear, but their postnatal functions remain poorly understood. Using cell-specific inducible gene recombination in mice we found that, in the postnatal inner ear, Bbnf and Ntf3 are required for the formation and maintenance of hair cell ribbon synapses in the vestibular and cochlear epithelia, respectively. We also show that supporting cells in these epithelia are the key endogenous source of the neurotrophins. Using a new hair cell CreERT line with mosaic expression, we also found that Ntf3's effect on cochlear synaptogenesis is highly localized. Moreover, supporting cell-derived Ntf3, but not Bbnf, promoted recovery of cochlear function and ribbon synapse regeneration after acoustic trauma. These results indicate that glial-derived neurotrophins play critical roles in inner ear synapse density and synaptic regeneration after injury.
eLife digest
Noise-induced hearing loss is common, and can result from prolonged exposure to moderate levels of noise that are not perceived as painful or even unpleasant. Some hearing loss can be attributed to the death of hair cells in a part of the inner ear called the cochlea. When sound waves hit the cochlea, they cause the fluid inside it to vibrate: the hair cells detect these vibrations and convert them into electrical signals that are sent along neurons to the brain. However, vibrations that are too strong can destroy hair cells.
Increasing evidence suggests that hearing loss also results from damage to the synapses that connect the hair cells and the neurons in the cochlea. During development of the inner ear, molecules called growth factors are needed to ensure the survival of these neurons. Wan et al. predicted that these growth factors might also have a role in adult animals, and that producing more of them might help to safeguard hearing from the damaging effects of noise.
Consistent with this, mice that were genetically modified to lack a growth factor called neurotrophin-3 had cochleae that did not work properly and had fewer synapses between hair cells and neurons compared to control mice. Conversely, mice that produced too much neurotrophin-3 had more synapses than controls and also recovered more quickly from the effects of 2 hr exposure to 100 dB noise (roughly the volume of a pneumatic drill). Studies of the cochlea revealed that the extra neurotrophin-3 had boosted the regeneration of synapses damaged by the noise.
The beneficial effects of neurotrophin-3 were still seen when overproduction was started shortly after noise exposure, suggesting that it could have therapeutic potential. This is particularly significant in the light of recent evidence that the loss of synapses often comes before the death of hair cells in both age-related hearing loss and noise-induced hearing loss.
PMCID: PMC4227045  PMID: 25329343
deafness; synaptogenesis; hearing loss; neuron–glia interactions; glial cell; mouse
14.  Type II spiral ganglion afferent neurons drive medial olivocochlear reflex suppression of the cochlear amplifier 
Nature Communications  2015;6:7115.
The dynamic adjustment of hearing sensitivity and frequency selectivity is mediated by the medial olivocochlear efferent reflex, which suppresses the gain of the ‘cochlear amplifier' in each ear. Such efferent feedback is important for promoting discrimination of sounds in background noise, sound localization and protecting the cochleae from acoustic overstimulation. However, the sensory driver for the olivocochlear reflex is unknown. Here, we resolve this longstanding question using a mouse model null for the gene encoding the type III intermediate filament peripherin (Prph). Prph(−/−) mice lacked type II spiral ganglion neuron innervation of the outer hair cells, whereas innervation of the inner hair cells by type I spiral ganglion neurons was normal. Compared with Prph(+/+) controls, both contralateral and ipsilateral olivocochlear efferent-mediated suppression of the cochlear amplifier were absent in Prph(−/−) mice, demonstrating that outer hair cells and their type II afferents constitute the sensory drive for the olivocochlear efferent reflex.
The medial olivocochlear efferent reflex regulates cochlear outer hair cell-based amplification of sound energy. Here the authors show this dynamic control of hearing sensitivity is driven by sensory input from the outer hair cells and their type II spiral ganglion neuron innervation.
PMCID: PMC4432632  PMID: 25965946
15.  Overexpression of SK2 Channels Enhances Efferent Suppression of Cochlear Responses without Enhancing Noise Resistance 
Journal of neurophysiology  2007;97(4):2930-2936.
Cochlear hair cells express SK2, a small-conductance Ca2+-activated K+ channel thought to act in concert with Ca2+-permeable nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) α9 and α10 in mediating suppressive effects of the olivocochlear efferent innervation. To probe the in vivo role of SK2 channels in hearing, we examined gene expression, cochlear function, efferent suppression and noise vulnerability in mice overexpressing SK2 channels. Cochlear thresholds, as measured by auditory brainstem responses and otoacoustic emissions were normal in overexpressers, as was overall cochlear morphology and the size, number and distribution of efferent terminals on outer hair cells. Cochlear expression levels of SK2 channels were elevated 8-fold, without striking changes in other SK channels or in the α9/α10 nAChRs. Shock-evoked efferent suppression of cochlear responses was significantly enhanced in overexpresser mice, as seen previously in α9 overexpresser mice (Maison et al. 2002); however, in contrast to α9 overexpressers, SK2 overexpressers were not protected from acoustic injury. Results suggest that efferent-mediated cochlear protection is mediated by other downstream effects of ACh-mediated Ca2+ entry, different from those involving SK2-mediated hyperpolarization and the associated reduction in outer hair cell electromotility.
PMCID: PMC1850627  PMID: 17267753
Hair cell; Olivocochlear
16.  Cochlear progenitor number is controlled through mesenchymal FGF receptor signaling 
eLife  null;4:e05921.
The sensory and supporting cells (SCs) of the organ of Corti are derived from a limited number of progenitors. The mechanisms that regulate the number of sensory progenitors are not known. Here, we show that Fibroblast Growth Factors (FGF) 9 and 20, which are expressed in the non-sensory (Fgf9) and sensory (Fgf20) epithelium during otic development, regulate the number of cochlear progenitors. We further demonstrate that Fgf receptor (Fgfr) 1 signaling within the developing sensory epithelium is required for the differentiation of outer hair cells and SCs, while mesenchymal FGFRs regulate the size of the sensory progenitor population and the overall cochlear length. In addition, ectopic FGFR activation in mesenchyme was sufficient to increase sensory progenitor proliferation and cochlear length. These data define a feedback mechanism, originating from epithelial FGF ligands and mediated through periotic mesenchyme that controls the number of sensory progenitors and the length of the cochlea.
eLife digest
Mammalian ears contain several structures that are involved in hearing. Within the inner ear is a spiral-shaped structure called the cochlea. This contains an array of cells called sensory hair cells that convert sound vibrations into electrical signals, which are then conveyed to the brain. Sounds of differing pitch are detected at different points along the cochlea, so its overall length helps to determine the range of sounds that an individual can hear.
In the embryo, sensory hair cells and their associated supporting cells develop from ‘cochlear progenitor’ cells. The final length of the cochlea is determined by the numbers of progenitor cells that commit to becoming either sensory hair cells or supporting cells. Two proteins called FGF9 and FGF20 are involved in the formation of the cochlea. FGF20 promotes the formation of the hair cells and supporting cells, but the precise roles of both proteins are not clear.
Here, Huh et al. studied FGF9 and FGF20 in the inner ear of mice at an early stage of development. The experiments show that these proteins work together to control the number of progenitor cells and the length of the cochlea. FGF20 is produced by the same tissue structure (called an ‘epithelium’) that gives rise to the hair cells and supporting cells. In contrast, FGF9 is produced in another epithelium tissue that produces the cells that line the fluid-filled tubes of the inner ear.
The experiments also show that both FGF9 and FGF20 act as signals to cells in an adjacent tissue called the mesenchyme, where they activate other proteins known as FGF receptors. These receptors, in turn, regulate an unknown molecule in the mesenchyme that influences the growth of progenitor cells and the length of the cochlea.
Sensory hair cells can be injured or lost by excessive sound exposure, some medications and as part of normal aging. These cells are not replaced, and so their loss is a major cause of permanent hearing loss. Understanding the signals that produce the progenitor cells will take us one step closer to being able to grow these cells in the laboratory for use in therapies to replace or repair damaged sensory hair cells.
PMCID: PMC4434254  PMID: 25915623
cochlea; organ of Corti; FGF9; FGF20; sensory progenitor; mesenchyme; mouse
17.  Cochlear microphonic potential recorded by transtympanic electrocochleography in normally-hearing and hearing-impaired ears 
The cochlear microphonic is a receptor potential believed to be generated primarily by outer hair cells. Its detection in surface recordings has been considered a distinctive sign of outer hair cell integrity in patients with auditory neuropathy. This report focuses on the results of an analysis performed on cochlear microphonic recorded by transtympanic electrocochleography in response to clicks in 502 subjects with normal hearing threshold or various degrees of hearing impairment, and in 20 patients with auditory neuropathy. Cochlear microphonics recorded in normally-hearing and hearing-impaired ears showed amplitudes decreasing by the elevation of compound action potential Cochlear microphonic responses were clearly detected in ears with profound hearing loss. After separating recordings according to the presence or absence of central nervous system pathology (CNS+ and CNS-, respectively), cochlear microphonic amplitude was significantly higher in CNS+ than in CNS- subjects with normally-hearing ears and at 70 dB nHL compound action potential threshold. Cochlear microphonic responses were detected in all auditory neuropathy patients, with similar amplitudes and thresholds to those calculated for normally-hearing CNS- subjects. Cochlear microphonic duration was significantly higher in auditory neuropathy and normally-hearing CNS+ patients compared to CNS- subjects. Our results show that: 1. cochlear microphonic detection is not a distinctive feature of auditory neuropathy; 2. CNS+ subjects showed enhancement in cochlear microphonic amplitude and duration, possibly due to efferent system dysfunction; 3. long-lasting, high frequency cochlear microphonics with amplitudes comparable to those obtained from CNS- ears were found in auditory neuropathy patients. This could result from a variable combination of afferent compartment lesion, efferent system dysfacilitation and loss of outer hair cells.
PMCID: PMC2639978  PMID: 16886850
Hearing impairment; Auditory neuropathy; CNS disorders; Electrocochleography; Cochlear microphonic potential
18.  BK Channels Mediate Cholinergic Inhibition of High Frequency Cochlear Hair Cells 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(11):e13836.
Outer hair cells are the specialized sensory cells that empower the mammalian hearing organ, the cochlea, with its remarkable sensitivity and frequency selectivity. Sound-evoked receptor potentials in outer hair cells are shaped by both voltage-gated K+ channels that control the membrane potential and also ligand-gated K+ channels involved in the cholinergic efferent modulation of the membrane potential. The objectives of this study were to investigate the tonotopic contribution of BK channels to voltage- and ligand-gated currents in mature outer hair cells from the rat cochlea.
Findings In this work we used patch clamp electrophysiology and immunofluorescence in tonotopically defined segments of the rat cochlea to determine the contribution of BK channels to voltage- and ligand-gated currents in outer hair cells. Although voltage and ligand-gated currents have been investigated previously in hair cells from the rat cochlea, little is known about their tonotopic distribution or potential contribution to efferent inhibition. We found that apical (low frequency) outer hair cells had no BK channel immunoreactivity and little or no BK current. In marked contrast, basal (high frequency) outer hair cells had abundant BK channel immunoreactivity and BK currents contributed significantly to both voltage-gated and ACh-evoked K+ currents.
Our findings suggest that basal (high frequency) outer hair cells may employ an alternative mechanism of efferent inhibition mediated by BK channels instead of SK2 channels. Thus, efferent synapses may use different mechanisms of action both developmentally and tonotopically to support high frequency audition. High frequency audition has required various functional specializations of the mammalian cochlea, and as shown in our work, may include the utilization of BK channels at efferent synapses. This mechanism of efferent inhibition may be related to the unique acetylcholine receptors that have evolved in mammalian hair cells compared to those of other vertebrates.
PMCID: PMC2973960  PMID: 21079807
19.  Requirement of Nicotinic Acetylcholine Receptor Subunit β2 in the Maintenance of Spiral Ganglion Neurons during Aging 
Age-related hearing loss (presbycusis) is a major health concern for the elderly. Loss of spiral ganglion neurons (SGNs), the primary sensory relay of the auditory system, is associated consistently with presbycusis. The causative molecular events responsible for age-related loss of SGNs are unknown. Recent reports directly link age-related neuronal loss in cerebral cortex with the loss of high-affinity nicotine acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs). In cochlea, cholinergic synapses are made by olivocochlear efferent fibers on the outer hair cells that express α9 nAChR subunits and on the peripheral projections of SGNs that express α2, α4 –7, and β2–3 nAChR subunits. A significantly decreased expression of the β2 nAChR subunit in SGNs was found specifically in mice susceptible to presbycusis. Furthermore, mice lacking the β2 nAChR subunit (β2−/−), but not mice lacking the α5 nAChR subunit (α5−/−), have dramatic hearing loss and significant reduction in the number of SGNs. Our findings clearly established a requirement for β2 nAChR subunit in the maintenance of SGNs during aging.
PMCID: PMC2280031  PMID: 15788760
presbycusis; aging; hearing loss; nicotinic receptors; spiral ganglion neurons; neurodegeneration
20.  Ca2+ and Ca2+-activated K+ channels that support and modulate transmitter release at the olivocochlear efferent-inner hair cell synapse 
In the mammalian auditory system, the synapse between efferent olivocochlear (OC) neurons and sensory cochlear hair cells is cholinergic, fast and inhibitory. This efferent synapse is mediated by the nicotinic α9α10 receptor coupled to the activation of SK2 Ca2+-activated K+ channels that hyperpolarize the cell. So far, the ion channels that support and/or modulate neurotransmitter release from the OC terminals remain unknown. To identify these channels, we used an isolated mouse cochlear preparation and monitored transmitter release from the efferent synaptic terminals in inner hair cells (IHCs) voltage-clamped in the whole-cell recording configuration. Acetylcholine (ACh) release was evoked by electrically stimulating the efferent fibers that make axosomatic contacts with IHCs before the onset of hearing. Using the specific antagonists for P/Q-and N-type voltage-gated calcium channels (VGCCs), ω-agatoxin IVA and ω-conotoxin GVIA, respectively, we show that Ca2+ entering through both types of VGCCs support the release process at this synapse. Interestingly, we found that Ca2+ entering through the dihydropiridine-sensitive L-type VGCCs exerts a negative control on transmitter release. Moreover, using immunostaining techniques combined with electrophysiology and pharmacology, we show that BK Ca2+-activated K+ channels are transiently expressed at the OC efferent terminals contacting IHCs and that their activity modulates the release process at this synapse. The effects of dihydropiridines combined with iberiotoxin, a specific BK channel antagonist, strongly suggest that L-type VGCCs negatively regulate the release of ACh by fueling BK channels which are known to curtail the duration of the terminal action potential in several types of neurons.
PMCID: PMC2963083  PMID: 20826678
Synaptic transmission; Calcium channels; BK channels; cochlea; hair cells; efferent
21.  L-type CaV1.2 deletion in the cochlea but not in the brainstem reduces noise vulnerability: implication for CaV1.2-mediated control of cochlear BDNF expression 
Voltage-gated L-type Ca2+ channels (L-VGCCs) like CaV1.2 are assumed to play a crucial role for controlling release of trophic peptides including brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). In the inner ear of the adult mouse, besides the well-described L-VGCC CaV1.3, CaV1.2 is also expressed. Due to lethality of constitutive CaV1.2 knock-out mice, the function of this ion channel as well as its putative relationship to BDNF in the auditory system is entirely elusive. We recently described that BDNF plays a differential role for inner hair cell (IHC) vesicles release in normal and traumatized condition. To elucidate a presumptive role of CaV1.2 during this process, two tissue-specific conditional mouse lines were generated. To distinguish the impact of CaV1.2 on the cochlea from that on feedback loops from higher auditory centers CaV1.2 was deleted, in one mouse line, under the Pax2 promoter (CaV1.2Pax2) leading to a deletion in the spiral ganglion neurons, dorsal cochlear nucleus, and inferior colliculus. In the second mouse line, the Egr2 promoter was used for deleting CaV1.2 (CaV1.2Egr2) in auditory brainstem nuclei. In both mouse lines, normal hearing threshold and equal number of IHC release sites were observed. We found a slight reduction of auditory brainstem response wave I amplitudes in the CaV1.2Pax2 mice, but not in the CaV1.2Egr2 mice. After noise exposure, CaV1.2Pax2 mice had less-pronounced hearing loss that correlated with maintenance of ribbons in IHCs and less reduced activity in auditory nerve fibers, as well as in higher brain centers at supra-threshold sound stimulation. As reduced cochlear BDNF mRNA levels were found in CaV1.2Pax2 mice, we suggest that a CaV1.2-dependent step may participate in triggering part of the beneficial and deteriorating effects of cochlear BDNF in intact systems and during noise exposure through a pathway that is independent of CaV1.2 function in efferent circuits.
PMCID: PMC3739414  PMID: 23950737
L-VGCCs; CaV1.2; inner ear; SOC; ABR; BDNF
22.  Age-Related Cochlear Synaptopathy: An Early-Onset Contributor to Auditory Functional Decline 
The Journal of Neuroscience  2013;33(34):13686-13694.
Aging listeners experience greater difficulty understanding speech in adverse listening conditions and exhibit degraded temporal resolution, even when audiometric thresholds are normal. When threshold evidence for peripheral involvement is lacking, central and cognitive factors are often cited as underlying performance declines. However, previous work has uncovered widespread loss of cochlear afferent synapses and progressive cochlear nerve degeneration in noise-exposed ears with recovered thresholds and no hair cell loss (Kujawa and Liberman 2009). Here, we characterize age-related cochlear synaptic and neural degeneration in CBA/CaJ mice never exposed to high-level noise. Cochlear hair cell and neuronal function was assessed via distortion product otoacoustic emissions and auditory brainstem responses, respectively. Immunostained cochlear whole mounts and plastic-embedded sections were studied by confocal and conventional light microscopy to quantify hair cells, cochlear neurons, and synaptic structures, i.e., presynaptic ribbons and postsynaptic glutamate receptors. Cochlear synaptic loss progresses from youth (4 weeks) to old age (144 weeks) and is seen throughout the cochlea long before age-related changes in thresholds or hair cell counts. Cochlear nerve loss parallels the synaptic loss, after a delay of several months. Key functional clues to the synaptopathy are available in the neural response; these can be accessed noninvasively, enhancing the possibilities for translation to human clinical characterization.
PMCID: PMC3755715  PMID: 23966690
23.  Orphan Glutamate Receptor δ1 Subunit Required for High-Frequency Hearing▿  
Molecular and Cellular Biology  2007;27(12):4500-4512.
The function of the orphan glutamate receptor delta subunits (GluRδ1 and GluRδ2) remains unclear. GluRδ2 is expressed exclusively in the Purkinje cells of the cerebellum, and GluRδ1 is prominently expressed in inner ear hair cells and neurons of the hippocampus. We found that mice lacking the GluRδ1 protein displayed significant cochlear threshold shifts for frequencies of >16 kHz. These deficits correlated with a substantial loss of type IV spiral ligament fibrocytes and a significant reduction of endolymphatic potential in high-frequency cochlear regions. Vulnerability to acoustic injury was significantly enhanced; however, the efferent innervation of hair cells and the classic efferent inhibition of outer hair cells were unaffected. Hippocampal and vestibular morphology and function were normal. Our findings show that the orphan GluRδ1 plays an essential role in high-frequency hearing and ionic homeostasis in the basal cochlea, and the locus encoding GluRδ1 represents a candidate gene for congenital or acquired high-frequency hearing loss in humans.
PMCID: PMC1900048  PMID: 17438141
24.  Ultrastructure of Cisternal Synapses on Outer Hair Cells of the Mouse Cochlea 
C (cisternal) synapses with a near membrane postsynaptic cistern are found on motor neurons and other central neurons, where their functional role is unknown. Similarly structured cisternal synapses mediate cholinergic inhibition of cochlear hair cells via α9α10-containing ionotropic receptors and associated calcium-activated (SK2) potassium channels, providing the opportunity to examine the ultrastructure of genetically altered cisternal synapses. Serial section electron microscopy was used to examine efferent synapses of outer hair cells (OHCs) in mice with diminished or enhanced cholinergic inhibition. The contact area of efferent terminals, the appositional area of the postsynaptic cistern, the distance of the cistern from the plasma membrane, and the average width of the cisternal lumen were recorded. The synaptic cisterns of wild- type OHCs were closely aligned (14-nm separation) with the hair cell membrane and coextensive with the micrometers-long synaptic terminals. The cisternal lumen averaged 18 nm so that the cisternal volume was approximately 30% larger than that of the cytoplasmic space between the cistern and the plasma membrane. Synaptic ultrastructure of α9L9′T knockin OHCs (acetylcholine receptor gain of function) were like those of wild-type littermates except that cisternal volumes were significantly larger. OHCs of SK2 knockout mice had few small efferent terminals. Synaptic cisterns were present, but smaller than those of wild-type littermates. Taken together, these data suggest that the cistern serves as a sink or buffer to isolate synaptic calcium signals. J. Comp. Neurol. 522:717-729, 2014.
PMCID: PMC4474150  PMID: 24122766
synaptic cistern; calcium store; cholinergic inhibition; cochlea; hair cell
25.  Old Mice Lacking High-Affinity Nicotine Receptors Resist Acoustic Trauma 
Hearing research  2011;277(1-2):184-191.
There is presently no clearly effective preventative medication against noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). However, negative feedback systems that presumably evolved to modulate the sensitivity of the organ of Corti may incidentally confer protection. One feedback system implicated in protection from NIHL involves synaptic connections between the lateral olivocochlear efferent terminals and the afferent fibers of spiral ganglion neurons (SGNs). These connections operate via high affinity nicotinic acetylcholine receptors containing the β2 subunit. We unexpectedly observed protection from NIHL in 9 month old knockout mice lacking the β2 subunit (β2-/-); however, the same protection was not observed in 2-month old β2-/- mice. This enigmatic observation led to the discovery that protection from acoustic trauma in older β2-/- mice is mainly mediated by an age-related increase of corticosterone, not disruption of efferent cholinergic transmission. Significant protection of inner hair cells after acoustic trauma in β2-/- mice was linked to the activation of glucocorticoid signaling pathways. However, significant loss of SGNs was observed in animals with chronically high systemic levels of corticosterone. These results suggested a “double-edge sword” nature of glucocorticoid signaling in neuronal protection, and a need for caution regarding when to apply synthetic glucocorticoid drugs to treat neural injury such as accompanies acoustic trauma.
PMCID: PMC3094742  PMID: 21272629
Noise-induced hearing loss; spiral ganglion neurons; hair cell; glucocorticoid; olivocochlear efferent synapse

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