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J Neurosci Res. 2012 Nov;90(11):2201-13. doi: 10.1002/jnr.23107. Epub 2012 Jul 27.

Bilirubin induces auditory neuropathy in neonatal guinea pigs via auditory nerve fiber damage.

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Department of Otorhinolaryngology, Affiliated Sixth People's Hospital of Shanghai Jiaotong University, Shanghai, China.


Bilirubin can cause temporary or permanent sensorineural deafness in newborn babies with hyperbilirubinemia. However, the underlying targets and physiological effects of bilirubin-induced damage in the peripheral auditory system are unclear. Using cochlear functional assays and electron microscopy imaging of the inner ear in neonatal guinea pigs, we show here that bilirubin exposure resulted in threshold elevation in both compound action potential (CAP) and auditory brainstem response (ABR), which was apparent at 1 hr and peaked 8 hr after drug administration. The threshold elevation was associated with delayed wave latencies and elongated interwave intervals in ABR and CAP. At 72 hr postinjection, these measures returned to control levels, except for the CAP amplitude. Cochlear microphonics remained unchanged during the experiment. Morphological abnormalities were consistent with the electrophysiological dysfunction, revealing fewer auditory nerve fibers (ANFs) in the basal turn, myelin sheath lesions of spiral ganglion neurons (SGNs) and ANFs, and loss of type 1 afferent endings beneath inner hair cells (IHCs) without loss of hair cells at 8 hr posttreatment. Similar to the electrophysiological findings, morphological changes were mostly reversed 10 days after treatment, except for the ANF reduction in the basal turn. These results suggest that hyperbilirubinemia in neonatal guinea pigs impaired auditory peripheral neuromechanisms that targeted mainly the IHC synapses and the myelin sheath of SGNs and their fibers. Our observations indicate a potential connection between hyperbilirubinemia and auditory neuropathy.

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