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.
auditory neuropathy; feedback; hair cells; hearing conservation
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.
Auditory neuropathy; olivocochlear; hair cells; cochlea; noise; acoustic injury; feedback
Pharmacological studies suggest that dopamine release from lateral olivocochlear efferent neurons suppresses spontaneous and sound-evoked activity in cochlear nerve fibers and helps control noise-induced excitotoxicity; however, the literature on cochlear expression and localization of dopamine receptors is contradictory. To better characterize cochlear dopaminergic signaling, we studied receptor localization using immunohistochemistry or RT-PCR and assessed histopathology, cochlear responses and olivocochlear function in mice with targeted deletion of each of the five receptor subtypes. In normal ears, D1, D2 and D5 receptors were detected in microdissected immature (P10–P13) spiral ganglion cells and outer hair cells but not inner hair cells. D4 was detected in spiral ganglion cells only. In whole cochlea samples from adults, transcripts for D1, D2, D4 and D5 were present, whereas D3 mRNA was never detected. D1 and D2 immunolabeling was localized to cochlear nerve fibers, near the first nodes of Ranvier (D2) and in the inner spiral bundle region (D1 and D2) where presynaptic olivocochlear terminals are found. No other receptor labeling was consistent. Cochlear function was normal in D3, D4 and D5 knockouts. D1 and D2 knockouts showed slight, but significant enhancement and suppression, respectively, of cochlear responses, both in the neural output (ABR wave 1) and in outer-hair cell function (DPOAEs). Vulnerability to acoustic injury was significantly increased in D2, D4 and D5 lines: D1 could not be tested, and no differences were seen in D3 mutants, consistent with a lack of receptor expression. The increased vulnerability in D2 knockouts was seen in DPOAEs, suggesting a role for dopamine in the OHC area. In D4 and D5 knockouts, the increased noise vulnerability was seen only in ABRs, consistent with a role for dopaminergic signaling in minimizing neural damage.
dopamine; cochlea; hair cell; olivocochlear; acoustic injury
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.
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.
Hair cell; Olivocochlear
The olivocochlear efferent system is both cholinergic and GABAergic and innervates sensory cells and sensory neurons of the inner ear. Cholinergic effects on cochlear sensory cells are well characterized, both in vivo and in vitro; however, the robust GABAergic innervation is poorly understood. To explore the functional roles of GABA in the inner ear, we characterized the cochlear phenotype of seven mouse lines with targeted deletion of a GABAA receptor subunit (α1, α2, α5, α6, β2, β3, or δ). Four of the lines (α1, α2, α6, and δ) were normal: there was no cochlear histopathology, and cochlear responses suggested normal function of hair cells, afferent fibers, and efferent feedback. The other three lines (α5, β2, and β3) showed threshold elevations indicative of outer hair cell dysfunction. α5 and β2 lines also showed decreased effects of efferent bundle activation, associated with decreased density of efferent terminals on outer hair cells: although the onset of this degeneration was later in α5 (>6 weeks) than β2 (<6 weeks), both lines shows normal efferent development (up to 3 weeks). Two lines (β2 and β3) showed signs of neuropathy, either decreased density of afferent innervation (β3) or decreased neural responses without concomitant attenuation of hair cell responses (β2). One of the lines (β2) showed a clear sexual dimorphism in cochlear phenotype. Results suggest that the GABAergic component of the olivocochlear system contributes to the long-term maintenance of hair cells and neurons in the inner ear.
efferent; hair cell; olivocochlear; auditory; feedback; knock-out mice
To further understand the roles and origins of γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP) in the efferent innervation of the cochlea, we first produced in the mouse an immunocytochemical map of the efferent terminals that contain acetylcho-line (ACh), CGRP, and GABA. Olivocochlear (OC) terminals in inner and outer hair cell (IHC and OHC) regions were analyzed quantitatively along the cochlear spiral via light-microscopic observation of cochlear wholemounts immunostained with antibodies to glutamic acid decarboxylase (GAD), vesicular acetylcholine transporter (VAT), or the peptide CGRP. Further immunochemical characterization was performed in mice with chronic OC transection at the floor of the fourth ventricle to distinguish crossed from uncrossed contributions and, indirectly, the contributions of lateral versus medial components of the OC system. The results in mouse showed that (1) there are prominent GABAergic, cholinergic, and CGRPergic innervations in the OHC and IHC regions, (2) GABA and CGRP are extensively colocalized with ACh in all OC terminals in the IHC and OHC areas, (3) the longitudinal gradient of OC innervation peaks roughly at the 10-kHz region in the OHC area and is more uniform along the cochlear spiral in the IHC area, (4) in contrast to other mammalian species there is no radial gradient of OC innervation of the OHCs, and (5) all OHC efferent terminals arise from the medial OC system and terminals in the IHC area arise from the lateral OC system.
cochlea; efferents; hair cells; acetylcholine; γ-aminobutyric acid; calcitonin gene-related peptide
Genetic tools available for the mouse make it a powerful model to study the modulation of cochlear function by descending control systems. Suppression of distortion product otoacoustic emission (DPOAE) amplitude by contralateral acoustic stimulation (CAS) provides a robust tool for noninvasively monitoring the strength of descending modulation, yet investigations in mice have been performed infrequently and only under anesthesia, a condition likely to reduce olivocochlear activation. Here, we characterize the contralateral olivocochlear reflex in the alert, unanesthetized mouse. Head-fixed mice were restrained between two closed acoustic systems, while an artifact rejection protocol minimized contamination from self-generated sounds and movements. In mice anesthetized with pentobarbital, ketamine or urethane, CAS at 80 dB SPL evoked, on average, a <1-dB change in DPOAE amplitude. In contrast, the mean CAS-induced DPOAE suppression in unanesthetized mice was nearly 8 dB. Experiments in mice with targeted deletion of the α9 subunit of the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor confirmed the contribution of the medial olivocochlear efferents to this phenomenon. These findings demonstrate the utility of the CAS assay in the unanesthetized mouse and highlight the adverse effects of anesthesia when probing the functional status of descending control pathways within the auditory system.
olivocochlear; corticofugal; arousal; attention; anesthesia; contralateral reflex; outer hair cell
The vasculature and neurons of the inner ear receive adrenergic innervation from the cervical sympathetic chain, and adrenergic receptors may be expressed by cells of the organ of Corti and stria vascularis, despite a lack of direct sympathetic innervation. To assess the functional role of adrenergic signaling in the auditory periphery, we studied mice with targeted deletion of the gene for dopamine β-hydroxylase (DBH), which catalyzes the conversion of dopamine to noradrenaline; thus, these mutant mice have no measurable adrenaline or noradrenaline. Dbh−/− mice were more susceptible to spontaneous middle-ear infection than their control littermates, consistent with a role for sympathetics in systemic and/or local immune response. At 6–8 weeks of age, cochlear thresholds and suprathreshold responses assessed by auditory brainstem responses and distortion product otoacoustic emissions, as well as light-microscopic morphology, were indistinguishable from controls, if ears with conductive hearing loss were eliminated. Dbh−/− mice were no more susceptible to acoustic injury than controls, despite prior reports that sympathectomy reduces noise damage. Dbh−/− mice showed enhancement of shock-evoked olivocochlear suppression of cochlear responses, which may arise from the loss of adrenergic inputs to olivocochlear neurons in the brainstem. However, adrenergic modulation of olivocochlear efferents does not mediate the protective effect of contralateral cochlear destruction on ipsilateral response to acoustic overexposure.
dopamine β-hydroxylase; sympathetic nervous system; otitis media; olivocochlear
Despite pharmacological and immunohistochemical evidence for GABA as a neurotransmitter in the olivocochlear efferent bundle, a clear functional role of GABA in the inner ear has not emerged. To explore the role of metabotropic GABAB receptors, we characterized the cochlear phenotype of mice with targeted deletion of the GABAB1 subunit and determined its tissue localization using a mouse line expressing a GFP-tagged GABAB1 subunit under the endogenous promoter. Immunostaining revealed GABAB1 expression in both type I and type II ganglion cells and in their synaptic terminals under inner and outer hair cells, respectively. No GABAB1 expression was observed in hair cells. Mean cochlear thresholds, measured via both auditory brainstem responses and distortion product otoacoustic emissions (DPOAEs), were elevated by ∼10 dB in GABAB1-deficient mice, consistent with outer hair cell dysfunction. Olivocochlear efferent function, assessed via DPOAE suppression during efferent electrical stimulation, was unaffected by GABAB1 deletion. GABAB1-deficient mice showed increased resistance to permanent acoustic injury, with mean threshold shifts ∼25 dB smaller than wild-types after exposure to 8–16-kHz noise at 100 dB for 2 h. In contrast, there was no vulnerability difference to temporary acoustic injury following exposure to the same noise at 94 dB for 15 min. Our results suggest that GABAergic signaling in type II afferent neurons may be required for normal outer hair cell amplifier function at low sound levels and may also modulate outer hair cell responses to high-level sound.
inner ear; feedback; efferent
Cochlear hair cells use SK2 currents to shape responses to cholinergic efferent feedback from the brain. Using SK2-/- mice, we demonstrate that, in addition to their previously defined role in modulating hair cell membrane potentials, SK2 channels are necessary for long-term survival of olivocochlear fibers and synapses. Loss of the SK2 gene also results in loss of electrically driven olivocochlear effects in vivo, and down regulation of ryanodine receptors involved in calcium-induced calcium release, the main inducer of nAChR evoked SK2 activity. Generation of double-null mice lacking both the α10 nAChR gene, loss of which results in hypertrophied olivocochlear terminals, and the SK2 gene, recapitulates the SK2-/- synaptic phenotype and gene expression, and also leads to down regulation of α9 nAChR gene expression. The data suggest a hierarchy of activity necessary to maintain early olivocochlear synapses at their targets, with SK2 serving an epistatic, upstream, role to the nAChRs.
cochlea; small conductance potassium channels; nicotinic receptors; synaptic degeneration; synaptogenesis
Mutations in COCH (coagulation factor C homology) are etiologic for the late-onset, progressive, sensorineural hearing loss and vestibular dysfunction known as DFNA9. We introduced the G88E mutation by gene targeting into the mouse and have created a CochG88E/G88E mouse model for the study of DFNA9 pathogenesis and cochlin function. Vestibular-evoked potential (VsEP) thresholds of CochG88E/G88E mice were elevated at all ages tested compared with wild-type littermates. At the oldest ages, two out of eight CochG88E/G88E mice had no measurable VsEP. Auditory brainstem response (ABR) thresholds of CochG88E/G88E mice were substantially elevated at 21 months but not at younger ages tested. At 21 months, four of eight CochG88E/G88E mice had absent ABRs at all frequencies tested and two of three CochG88E/+ mice had absent ABRs at three of four frequencies tested. Distortion product otoacoustic emission amplitudes of CochG88E/G88E mice were substantially lower than Coch+/+ mice and absent in the same CochG88E/G88E mice with absent ABRs. These results suggest that vestibular function is affected beginning as early as 11 months when cochlear function appears to be normal, and dysfunction increases with age. Hearing loss declines substantially at 21 months of age and progresses to profound hearing loss at some to all frequencies tested. This is the only mouse model developed to date where hearing loss begins at such an advanced age, providing an opportunity to study both progressive age-related hearing loss and possible interventional therapies.
The transduction of sound in the auditory periphery, the cochlea, is inhibited by efferent cholinergic neurons projecting from the brainstem and synapsing directly on mechanosensory hair cells. One fundamental question in auditory neuroscience is what role(s) this feedback plays in our ability to hear. In the present study, we have engineered a genetically modified mouse model in which the magnitude and duration of efferent cholinergic effects are increased, and we assess the consequences of this manipulation on cochlear function. We generated the Chrna9L9′T line of knockin mice with a threonine for leucine change (L9′T) at position 9′ of the second transmembrane domain of the α9 nicotinic cholinergic subunit, rendering α9-containing receptors that were hypersensitive to acetylcholine and had slower desensitization kinetics. The Chrna9L9′T allele produced a 3-fold prolongation of efferent synaptic currents in vitro. In vivo, Chrna9L9′T mice had baseline elevation of cochlear thresholds and efferent-mediated inhibition of cochlear responses was dramatically enhanced and lengthened: both effects were reversed by strychnine blockade of the α9α10 hair cell nicotinic receptor. Importantly, relative to their wild-type littermates, Chrna9L9′T/L9′T mice showed less permanent hearing loss following exposure to intense noise. Thus, a point mutation designed to alter α9α10 receptor gating has provided an animal model in which not only is efferent inhibition more powerful, but also one in which sound-induced hearing loss can be restrained, indicating the ability of efferent feedback to ameliorate sound trauma.
Nicotinic cholinergic receptors are essential to higher order brain function. Structurally, these operate through a myriad of ligand-gated pentameric arrangements of different homologous subunits. Here, we report progress in understanding the structural properties of a neuronal nicotinic receptor at the synapse. Receptors assembled from two nicotinic cholinergic subunits (α9 and α10) serve exclusively at the synapse between central nervous system descending fibers and cochlear hair cells. This enabled us to show direct causality between a point mutation of the α9 subunit, and predicted alterations in the synaptic strength in sensory hair cells of the cochlea of α9 point mutant mice. Furthermore, this single mutation results in profound enhancement of central nervous system feedback to the cochlea. And finally, as a consequence, mutant mice possessing this altered receptor have substantially improved resistance to traumatic sound. Thus, central neuronal feedback on cochlear hair cells provides an opportunity to define one specific role that nicotinic receptors can play in the nervous system, enabling study from biophysical to behavioral levels and promoting a target for the prevention of noise-induced hearing loss.
A point mutation in the cochlear hair cell nicotinic cholinergic receptor leads to strengthened central nervous system feedback to the cochlea and enhances protection from noise-induced hearing loss.
Cochlear sensory cells and neurons receive efferent feedback from the olivocochlear (OC) system. The myelinated medial component of the OC system, and its effects on outer hair cells (OHCs), has been implicated in protection from acoustic injury. The unmyelinated lateral (L)OC fibers target ipsilateral cochlear nerve dendrites, and pharmacological studies suggest the LOC's dopaminergic component may protect these dendrites from excitotoxic effects of acoustic overexposure. Here, we explore LOC function in vivo via selective stereotaxic destruction of LOC cell bodies in mouse. Lesion success in removing the LOC, and sparing the MOC, was assessed by histological analysis of brainstem sections and cochlear whole-mounts. Auditory brainstem responses (ABR), a neural-based metric, and distortion product otoacoustic emissions (DPOAEs), an OHC-based metric, were measured in control and surgical mice. In cases where the LOC was at least partially destroyed, there were increases in suprathreshold neural responses that were frequency- and level-independent, and not attributable to OHC-based effects. These interaural response asymmetries were not found in controls, or in cases where the lesion missed the LOC. In LOC-lesion cases, after exposure to a traumatic stimulus, temporary threshold shifts were greater in the ipsilateral ear, but only when measured in the neural response; OHC-based measurements were always bilaterally symmetric, suggesting OHC vulnerability was unaffected. Interaural asymmetries in threshold shift were not found in either unlesioned controls or in cases which missed the LOC. These findings suggest that the LOC modulates cochlear nerve excitability and protects the cochlea from neural damage in acute acoustic injury.
Cochlea; Excitotoxicity; Noise-induced hearing loss; Feedback control
Neurons in the lateral superior olive (LSO) compute sound location based on differences in interaural intensity, coded in ascending signals from the two cochleas. Unilateral destruction of the neuronal feedback from the LSO to the cochlea, the lateral olivocochlear efferents, disrupted the normal interaural correlation in response amplitudes to sounds of equal intensity. Thus, lateral olivocochlear feedback maintains the binaural balance in neural excitability required for accurate localization of sounds in space.
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.