Patterned spontaneous activity is a hallmark of developing sensory systems. In the auditory system, rhythmic bursts of spontaneous activity are generated in cochlear hair cells and propagated along central auditory pathways. The role of these activity patterns in the development of central auditory circuits has remained speculative. Here we demonstrate that blocking efferent cholinergic neurotransmission to developing hair cells in mice that lack the α9 subunit of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (α9 KO mice) altered the temporal fine-structure of spontaneous activity without changing activity levels. KO mice showed a severe impairment in the functional and structural sharpening of an inhibitory tonotopic map, as evidenced by deficits in synaptic strengthening and silencing of connections and an absence in axonal pruning. These results provide evidence that the precise temporal pattern of spontaneous activity before hearing onset is crucial for the establishment of precise tonotopy, the major organizing principle of central auditory pathways.
Generation of reactive oxygen species (ROS) is a common denominator in many conditions leading to cell death in the cochlea, yet little is known of the cochlea’s endogenous mechanisms involved in preventing oxidative stress and its consequences in the cochlea. We have recently described a corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) signaling system in the inner ear involved in susceptibility to noise-induced hearing loss. We use biochemical and proteomics assays to define further the role of CRF signaling in the response of cochlear cells to aminoglycoside exposure. We demonstrate that activity via the CRF2 class of receptors protects against aminoglycoside-induced ROS production and activation of cell death pathways. This study suggests for the first time a role for CRF signaling in protecting the cochlea against oxidative stress, and our proteomics data suggest novel mechanisms beyond induction of free radical scavengers that are involved in its protective mechanisms.
corticotropin-releasing factor receptors; oxidative stress; mass spectrometry; iTRAQ; cochlea; OC-K3 cells
Spontaneous electrical activity generated by developing sensory cells and neurons is crucial for the maturation of neural circuits. The full maturation of mammalian auditory inner hair cells (IHCs) depends on patterns of spontaneous action potentials during a ‘critical period’ of development. The intrinsic spiking activity of IHCs can be modulated by inhibitory input from cholinergic efferent fibres descending from the brainstem, which transiently innervate immature IHCs. However, it remains unknown whether this transient efferent input to developing IHCs is required for their functional maturation. We used a mouse model that lacks the α9-nicotinic acetylcholine receptor subunit (α9nAChR) in IHCs and another lacking synaptotagmin-2 in the efferent terminals to remove or reduce efferent input to IHCs, respectively. We found that the efferent system is required for the developmental linearization of the Ca2+-sensitivity of vesicle fusion at IHC ribbon synapses, without affecting their general cell development. This provides the first direct evidence that the efferent system, by modulating IHC electrical activity, is required for the maturation of the IHC synaptic machinery. The central control of sensory cell development is unique among sensory systems.
hair cell; development; cochlea; calcium current; exocytosis; efferent system
A key property possessed by the mammalian cochlea is its ability to dynamically alter its own sensitivity. Because hair cells and ganglion cells are prone to damage following exposure to loud sound, extant mechanisms limiting cochlear damage include modulation involving both the mechanical (via outer hair cell motility) and neural signaling (via inner hair cell-ganglion cell synapses) steps of peripheral auditory processing. Feedback systems such as that embodied by the olivocochlear system can alter sensitivity, but respond only after stimulus encoding, allowing potentially damaging sounds to impact the inner ear before sensitivity is adjusted. Less well characterized are potential cellular signaling systems involved in protection against metabolic stress and resultant damage. Although pharmacological manipulation of the olivocochlear system may hold some promise for attenuating cochlear damage, targeting this system may still allow damage to occur that does not depend on a fully functional feedback loop for its mitigation. Thus, understanding endogenous cell signaling systems involved in cochlear protection may lead to new strategies and therapies for prevention of cochlear damage and consequent hearing loss. We have recently discovered a novel cochlear signaling system that is molecularly equivalent to the classic hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. This cochlear HPA-equivalent system functions to balance auditory sensitivity and susceptibility to noise-induced hearing loss, and also protects against cellular metabolic insults resulting from exposures to ototoxic drugs. This system may represent a local cellular response system designed to mitigate damage arising from various types of insult.
cochlea; corticotropin releasing factor; HPA axis; noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL); hair cell
A key requirement for encoding the auditory environment is the ability to dynamically alter cochlear sensitivity. However, merely attaining a steady state of maximal sensitivity is not a viable solution since the sensory cells and ganglion cells of the cochlea are prone to damage following exposure to loud sound. Most often, such damage is via initial metabolic insult that can lead to cellular death. Thus, establishing the highest sensitivity must be balanced with protection against cellular metabolic damage that can lead to loss of hair cells and ganglion cells, resulting in loss of frequency representation. While feedback mechanisms are known to exist in the cochlea that alter sensitivity, they respond only after stimulus encoding, allowing potentially damaging sounds to impact the inner ear at times coincident with increased sensitivity. Thus, questions remain concerning the endogenous signaling systems involved in dynamic modulation of cochlear sensitivity and protection against metabolic stress. Understanding endogenous signaling systems involved in cochlear protection may lead to new strategies and therapies for prevention of cochlear damage and consequent hearing loss. We have recently discovered a novel cochlear signaling system that is molecularly equivalent to the classic hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. This cochlear HPA-equivalent system functions to balance auditory sensitivity and susceptibility to noise-induced hearing loss, and also protects against cellular metabolic insults resulting from exposures to ototoxic drugs. We review the anatomy, physiology, and cellular signaling of this system, and compare it to similar signaling in other organs/tissues of the body.
cochlea; corticotropin releasing factor (CRF); hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA axis); noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL); hair cell; homeostatic control
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.
Cells of the inner ear face constant metabolic and structural stress. Exposure to intense sound or certain drugs destroys cochlea hair cells, which in mammals do not regenerate. Thus, an endogenous stress response system may exist within the cochlea to protect it from everyday stressors. We recently described the existence of Corticotropin-Releasing Factor (CRF) in the mouse cochlea. The CRFR1 receptor is considered the primary and canonical target of CRF signaling, and systemically it plays an essential role in coordinating the body-wide stress response via activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. Here we describe an essential role for CRFR1 in auditory system development and function, and offer the first description of a complete HPA equivalent signaling system resident within the cochlea. To reveal the role of CRFR1 activation in the cochlea, we have used mice carrying a null ablation of the CRFR1 gene. CRFR1−/− mice exhibited elevated auditory thresholds at all frequencies tested, indicating reduced sensitivity. Furthermore, our results suggest that CRFR1 has a developmental role affecting inner hair cell morphology and afferent and efferent synapse distribution. Given the role of HPA signaling in maintaining local homeostasis in other tissues, the presence of a cochlear HPA signaling system suggests important roles for CRFR1 activity in setting cochlear sensitivity, perhaps both neural and non-neural mechanisms. These data highlight the complex pleiotropic mechanisms modulated by CRFR1 signaling in the cochlea.
cochlea; hair cell; CRF; neuropeptides; knock-out mouse; auditory function
Noise-induced hearing loss is a highly prevalent occupational injury, yet little is known concerning the signals controlling normal cochlear sensitivity and susceptibility to noise-induced trauma. While the corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) system is involved in activation of the classic hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, it is also involved in local physiological responses to stress in many tissues, and is expressed in the inner ear. We demonstrate that mice lacking the CRF receptor CRFR2 exhibit a significantly lower auditory threshold than wild type mice, but this gain of function comes at the price of increased susceptibility to acoustic trauma. We further demonstrate that glutamatergic transmission, purinergic signaling, and activation of Akt (PKB) pathways within the cochlea are misregulated, which may underlie the enhanced sensitivity and trauma susceptibility observed in CRFR2-/- mice. Our data suggest that CRFR2 constitutively modulates hearing sensitivity under normal conditions, and thereby provides protection against noise-induced hearing loss.
Although the synaptogenic program for cholinergic synapses of the neuromuscular junction is well known, little is known of the identity or dynamic expression patterns of proteins involved in non-neuromuscular nicotinic synapse development. We have previously demonstrated abnormal presynaptic terminal morphology following loss of nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR) α9 subunit expression in adult cochleae. However, the molecular mechanisms underlying these changes have remained obscure. To better understand synapse formation and the role of cholinergic activity in the synaptogenesis of the inner ear, we exploit the nAChR α9 subunit null mouse. In this mouse, functional acetylcholine (ACh) neurotransmission to the hair cells is completely silenced. Results demonstrate a premature, effusive innervation to the synaptic pole of the outer hair cells in α9 null mice coinciding with delayed expression of cell adhesion proteins during the period of effusive contact. Collapse of the ectopic innervation coincides with an age-related hyperexpression pattern in the null mice. In addition, we document changes in expression of presynaptic vesicle recycling/trafficking machinery in the α9 null mice that suggests a bidirectional information flow between the target of the neural innervation (the hair cells) and the presynaptic terminal that is modified by hair cell nAChR activity. Loss of nAChR activity may alter transcriptional activity, as CREB binding protein expression is decreased coincident with the increased expression of N-Cadherin in the adult α9 null mice. Finally, by using mice expressing the nondesensitizing α9 L9′T point mutant nAChR subunit, we show that increased nAChR activity drives synaptic hyperinnervation.
cochlea; acetylcholine receptors; synapse development; olivocochlear system; alpha9 nAChR
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.
nicotinic cholinergic receptors; efferent medial olivocochlear; SK2 channel; acetylcholine; transgenic mice
Olivocochlear (OC) neurons were studied in a transgenic mouse with deletion of the α9 nicotinic acetylcholine receptor subunit. In this α9 knockout mouse, the peripheral effects of OC stimulation are lacking and the peripheral terminals of OC neurons under outer hair cells have abnormal morphology. To account for this mouse’s apparently normal hearing, it has been proposed to have central compensation via collateral branches to the cochlear nucleus. We tested this idea by staining OC neurons for acetylcholinesterase and examining their morphology in knockout mice, wild-type mice of the same background strain, and CBA/CaJ mice. Knockout mice had normal OC systems in terms of numbers of OC neurons, dendritic patterns, and numbers of branches to the cochlear nucleus. The branch terminations were mainly to edge regions and to a lesser extent the core of the cochlear nucleus, and were similar among the strains in terms of the distribution and staining density. These data demonstrate that there are no obvious changes in the central morphology of the OC neurons in α9 knockout mice and make less attractive the idea that there is central compensation for deletion of the peripheral receptor in these mice.
superior olive; cochlear nucleus; acetylcholinesterase; auditory reflex; noise masking; cholinergic receptor
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.
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.
Modern biologists have at their disposal a large array of techniques used to assess the existence and relative or absolute quantity of any molecule of interest in a sample. However, implementing most of these procedures can be a daunting task for the first time, even in a lab with experienced researchers. Just choosing a protocol to follow can take weeks while all of the nuances are examined and it is determined whether a protocol will (a) give the desired results, (b) result in interpretable and unbiased data, and (c) be amenable to the sample of interest. We detail here a robust procedure for labeling proteins in a complex lysate for the ultimate differential quantification of protein abundance following experimental manipulations. Following a successful outcome of the labeling procedure, the sample is submitted for mass spectrometric analysis, resulting in peptide quantification and protein identification. While we will concentrate on cells in culture, we will point out procedures that can be used for labeling lysates generated from other tissues, along with any minor modifications required for such samples. We will also outline, but not fully document, other strategies used in our lab to label proteins prior to mass spectrometric analysis, and describe under which conditions each procedure may be desirable. What is not covered in this chapter is anything but the most brief introduction to mass spectrometry (instrumentation, theory, etc.), nor do we attempt to cover much in the way of software used for post hoc analysis. These two topics are dependant upon one’s resources, and where applicable, one’s collaborators. We strongly encourage the reader to seek out expert advice on topics not covered here.
Proteomics; iTRAQ; quantitative mass spectrometry; protein expression
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
Epithelialization, a major component of wound healing, depends on keratinocyte adhesion and migration. Initiation of migration relies upon the ability of keratinocytes to free themselves from neighboring cells and basement membrane. The local cytotransmitter acetylcholine (ACh) controls keratinocyte adhesion and locomotion through different classes of ACh receptors (AChR). In this study, we explored signaling pathways downstream of the α9 AChR subtype that had been shown to control cell shape and cytoplasm mobility. Inactivation of α9 signaling by pharmacologic antagonism and RNA interference in keratinocyte cultures and null mutation in knockout mice delayed wound re-epithelization in vitro and in vivo, respectively, and diminished the extent of colony scattering and cell outgrowth from the megacolony. Although keratinocytes at the leading edge elongated, produced filopodia and moved out, most of them remained anchored to the substrate by long cytoplasmic processes that stretched during their migration instead of retracting the uropod. Since the velocity of keratinocyte migration was not altered, we investigated the role of α9 in assembly/disassembly of the cell-cell and cell-matrix adhesion complexes. Stimulation of α9 upregulated in a time-dependent fashion phosphorylation of the adhesion molecules comprising focal adhesions (FAK, paxillin) and intercellular junctions (β-catenin, desmoglein 3) as well as cytokeratins. Stimulation of α9 was associated with activation of phospholipase C, Src, EGF receptor kinase, protein kinase C, Rac and Rho, whereas inhibition of this receptor interfered with phosphorylation of adhesion and cytoskeletal proteins, and also altered cell-cell cohesion. We conclude that signaling through α9 AChR is critical for completion of the very early stages of epithelialization. By activating α9 AChR, ACh can control the dynamics and strength of cell-cell cohesion, disabling of a trailing uropod and disassembly and re-assembly of focal adhesions, thus facilitating crawling locomotion.
keratinocytes; wound epithelialization; cell matrix adhesion; cell-cell adhesion; migration; phosphorylation
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.
Several ganglionic nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR) types are abundantly expressed in nonneuronal locations, but their functions remain unknown. We found that keratinocyte α7 nAChR controls homeostasis and terminal differentiation of epidermal keratinocytes required for formation of the skin barrier. The effects of functional inactivation of α7 nAChR on keratinocyte cell cycle progression, differentiation, and apoptosis were studied in cell monolayers treated with α-bungarotoxin or antisense oligonucleotides and in the skin of Acra7 homozygous mice lacking α7 nAChR channels. Elimination of the α7 signaling pathway blocked nicotine-induced influx of 45Ca2+ and also inhibited terminal differentiation of these cells at the transcriptional and/or translational level. On the other hand, inhibition of the α7 nAChR pathway favored cell cycle progression. In the epidermis of α7−/− mice, the abnormalities in keratinocyte gene expression were associated with phenotypic changes characteristic of delayed epidermal turnover. The lack of α7 was associated with up-regulated expression of the α3 containing nAChR channels that lack α5 subunit, and both homomeric α9- and heteromeric α9α10-made nAChRs. Thus, this study demonstrates that ACh signaling through α7 nAChR channels controls late stages of keratinocyte development in the epidermis by regulating expression of the cell cycle progression, apoptosis, and terminal differentiation genes and that these effects are mediated, at least in part, by alterations in transmembrane Ca2+ influx.
cell cycle; differentiation; α7 acetylcholine receptor; epidermis; knockout mouse