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J Neurosci. 2016 Sep 28;36(39):10214-27. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0226-16.2016. Epub 2016 Sep 28.

Conductive Hearing Loss Has Long-Lasting Structural and Molecular Effects on Presynaptic and Postsynaptic Structures of Auditory Nerve Synapses in the Cochlear Nucleus.

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Departments of Otolaryngology and.
Departments of Otolaryngology and Neurobiology and Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15261


Sound deprivation by conductive hearing loss increases hearing thresholds, but little is known about the response of the auditory brainstem during and after conductive hearing loss. Here, we show in young adult rats that 10 d of monaural conductive hearing loss (i.e., earplugging) leads to hearing deficits that persist after sound levels are restored. Hearing thresholds in response to clicks and frequencies higher than 8 kHz remain increased after a 10 d recovery period. Neural output from the cochlear nucleus measured at 10 dB above threshold is reduced and followed by an overcompensation at the level of the lateral lemniscus. We assessed whether structural and molecular substrates at auditory nerve (endbulb of Held) synapses in the cochlear nucleus could explain these long-lasting changes in hearing processing. During earplugging, vGluT1 expression in the presynaptic terminal decreased and synaptic vesicles were smaller. Together, there was an increase in postsynaptic density (PSD) thickness and an upregulation of GluA3 AMPA receptor subunits on bushy cells. After earplug removal and a 10 d recovery period, the density of synaptic vesicles increased, vesicles were also larger, and the PSD of endbulb synapses was larger and thicker. The upregulation of the GluA3 AMPAR subunit observed during earplugging was maintained after the recovery period. This suggests that GluA3 plays a role in plasticity in the cochlear nucleus. Our study demonstrates that sound deprivation has long-lasting alterations on structural and molecular presynaptic and postsynaptic components at the level of the first auditory nerve synapse in the auditory brainstem.


Despite being the second most prevalent form of hearing loss, conductive hearing loss and its effects on central synapses have received relatively little attention. Here, we show that 10 d of monaural conductive hearing loss leads to an increase in hearing thresholds, to an increased central gain upstream of the cochlear nucleus at the level of the lateral lemniscus, and to long-lasting presynaptic and postsynaptic structural and molecular effects at the endbulb of the Held synapse. Knowledge of the structural and molecular changes associated with decreased sensory experience, along with their potential reversibility, is important for the treatment of hearing deficits, such as hyperacusis and chronic otitis media with effusion, which is prevalent in young children with language acquisition or educational disabilities.


3D reconstructions; AMPA receptors; postembedding immunogold labeling; postsynaptic density; synaptic vesicles; vGluT1

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