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Ear Hear. 2013 Mar-Apr;34(2):151-9. doi: 10.1097/AUD.0b013e318269ca5b.

Acoustic experience alters the aged auditory system.

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  • 1Department of Surgery/Otolaryngology, Southern Illinois University School of Medicine, Springfield, IL 62794, USA.



Presbyacusis, one of the most common ailments of the elderly, is often treated with hearing aids, which serve to reintroduce some or all of those sounds lost to peripheral hearing loss. However, little is known about the underlying changes to the ear and brain as a result of such experience with sound late in life. The present study attempts to model this process by rearing aged CBA mice in an augmented acoustic environment (AAE).


Aged (22-23 months) male (n = 12) and female (n = 9) CBA/CaJ mice were reared in either 6 weeks of low-level (70 dB SPL) broadband noise stimulation (AAE) or normal vivarium conditions. Changes as a function of the treatment were measured for behavior, auditory brainstem response thresholds, hair cell cochleograms, and gamma aminobutyric acid neurochemistry in the key central auditory structures of the inferior colliculus and primary auditory cortex.


The AAE-exposed group was associated with sex-specific changes in cochlear pathology, auditory brainstem response thresholds, and gamma aminobutyric acid neurochemistry. Males exhibited significantly better thresholds and reduced hair cell loss (relative to controls) whereas females exhibited the opposite effect. AAE was associated with increased glutamic acid decarboxylase (GAD67) levels in the inferior colliculus of both male and female mice. However, in primary auditory cortex AAE exposure was associated with increased GAD67 labeling in females and decreased GAD67 in males.


These findings suggest that exposing aged mice to a low-level AAE alters both peripheral and central properties of the auditory system and these changes partially interact with sex or the degree of hearing loss before AAE. Although direct application of these findings to hearing aid use or auditory training in aged humans would be premature, the results do begin to provide direct evidence for the underlying changes that might be occurring as a result of hearing aid use late in life. These results suggest the aged brain retains significantly anatomical, electrophysiological, and neurochemical plasticity.

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