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Infection. 2008 Feb;36(1):2-14. Epub 2007 Dec 14.

Nitrogen and oxygen molecules in meningitis-associated labyrinthitis and hearing impairment.

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  • 1Department of Neurology, Klinikum Grosshadern, Ludwig-Maximilians-University, Marchioninistr. 15, 81377, Munich, Germany.


Pneumococcal meningitis remains a serious disease with a case fatality rate of 15%-25%. Furthermore, long-term residues affect up to 50% of survivors. One of the most frequent sequelae is sensorineural hearing loss, which occurs in 26% of survivors of pneumococcal meningitis. Unfortunately, sufficient treatment regimens are still missing. New insights into the pathology and pathophysiology of meningitis-associated hearing loss have come from animal models of bacterial meningitis. Most likely, bacteria reach the cochlea through the cochlear aquaeduct. Once arrived in the perilymphatic spaces, they induce a severe suppurative labyrinthitis. The blood-labyrinth barrier breaks, hair cells are damaged, and neurons in the spiral ganglion undergo cell death, leading to meningitis-associated hearing loss. Reactive oxygen and nitrogen species, in particular peroxynitrite, seem to be among the crucial mediators of cochlear damage and hearing loss during meningitis. In our rat model of pneumococcal meningitis, adjunctive therapy with the antioxidants and peroxynitrite scavengers Mn(III)tetrakis(4-bencoic acid)-porphyrin (MnTBAP) and N-Acetyl-L-Cystein (NAC) significantly attenuated acute and long-term hearing loss. In several other animal studies of pneumococcal meningitis, adjunctive antioxidant therapy also protected infected animals from intracranial complications. Therefore, the use of antioxidants seems to be a promising future treatment option in pneumococcal meningitis.

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