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Hear Res. 2001 Jul;157(1-2):77-86.

Selective aspects of human pathology in high-tone hearing loss of the aging inner ear.

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  • 1Department of Otolarynology, University of Innsbruck, Austria.


Accompanied with aging, the thresholds for high frequency sounds may elevate and result in a progressive hearing loss described as presbycusis. Based on correlations between audiometric measures of aged patients and histologic findings garnered from postmortem examinations, four types of presbycusis have been characterized: sensory-neural, neural, strial, and conductive [Schuknecht, H.F., Gacek, M.R., 1993. Ann. Otol. Rhinol. Laryngol. 102, 1--16]. Otopathologic changes to the inner ear as a direct function of age, however, remain controversial. The focus of this investigation involves the pathological impact on remaining sensory structures in patients having sensory--neural degeneration. The current study presents seven human temporal bones extracted from patients aged 53--67 years with high-tone hearing loss and with no known history of extraordinary environmental events involving head or noise trauma, acoustic overstimulation, or ototoxicity. In previously published findings of these specimens, all but one temporal bone failed to demonstrate a meaningful correlation between audiometric measurements and loss of functional hair cell populations with secondary retrograde degeneration of nerve fibers. Using the block surface method, electron microscopic micrographs demonstrate ultrastructural changes in the cuticular plate, stereocilia, pillar cells, stria vascularis, and the spiral ligament. In all pathological specimens, the greatest incidence of degeneration was seen at the cuticular plate. Conclusively, our findings present three implications in the aging human cochlea: firstly, audiometric measures that represent a high-tone hearing loss may take various forms with respect to ultrastructural patterns of degeneration and surviving structures; secondly, the incidence of lipofuscin and lysosome granules does not correlate with the degree of hearing loss and; thirdly, as shown only in guinea pigs [Anniko, M., 1988. Scanning Microsc. 2, 1035--1041], high-tone hearing loss can be associated with deformation of the cuticular plate.

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