Noise-induced and age-related hearing loss
An unfortunate feature of auditory circuits is their vulnerability to damage, as can happen in response to extremely intense sounds or with age. Work in the field has shown that synapses between hair cells and spiral ganglion neurons (SGNs) are lost with exposure even to moderately loud sounds and that a similar pattern of synapse loss occurs with age. Additionally, it seems that one particular subtype of SGNs is affected and that olivocochlear neurons (OCNs) offer additional protection at the circuit level. We are leveraging our understanding of SGN and OCN biology to try to find ways to preserve or restore SGN-hair cell synapses. We perform experiments on dissociated SGNs and cochlear explants to investigate the cell biology of synapse loss and use viral and genetic methods in the mouse to deliver target genes to prevent this loss in vivo. Through this work, we have identified an endogenous protective system and are screening for drugs that might be useful for prevention of noise-induced and age-related hearing loss in the future. Ongoing work is also investigating the protective role of top-down feedback signals by OCNs.
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