To experimentally investigate reinnervation and synaptogenesis in excitotoxically-damaged cochleae, we developed an organotypic cochlear explant in which a portion of the organ of Corti and corresponding portion of the spiral ganglion are removed intact, maintaining normal morphology and synaptic interactions. Briefly treating the explant with high levels of glutamate agonists results in excitotoxic degeneration of inner hair cell (IHC) - type I spiral ganglion neuron (SGN) synapses but does not affect hair cell or SGN viability. The synapses regenerate but the restored innervation is aberrant: the number of synapses is reduced, and individual SGN axons contact multiple IHCs. In all these respects, the in vitro model mimics what has been observed following noise or glutamatergic excitotoxic damage in vivo. Exogenous neurotrophins - BDNF or NT-3 - significantly improve recovery: the number of synapses on IHCs is increased, synapse number is increased, and innervation of multiple IHCs by single axons is reduced.
In Aim 1, we quantitatively compare the ability of BDNF and NT-3 to promote regeneration with an extended recovery period and seek to improve our model by extending it to older animals. Our core set of experiments in Aims 2-4 use molecular genetic approaches, including the use of transgenic mice, to test specific hypotheses, suggested by our preliminary data, regarding the function of neurotrophins in recovery and reinnervation of IHCs after excitotoxic trauma.
In Aim 2 we test whether NT-3, the endogenous neurotrophin, acts in a highly spatially restricted manner to maintain synapses on individual IHCs. We will delete NT-3 from a small number of IHCs or inhibit TrkC function in a small number of SGNs and quantitatively compare these with their unmodified neighbors.
In Aim 3, we replace NT-3 with BDNF to test the hypothesis that NT-3 has a distinctive function in maintaining IHCSGN synapses and BDNF can't substitute. Finally, in Aim 4, we use p75NTR knockout mice to test the hypothesis that the neurotrophin receptor p75NTR promotes reinnervation after excitotoxic trauma. We will also assay post-trauma expression of p75NTR and putative ligands and test a specific mechanism: whether p75NTR promotes reinnervation by upregulating NT-3.

Public Health Relevance

In humans, noise experienced in youth accelerates hearing loss in aging. Noise is known to acutely damage spiral ganglion neuron (SGN) synapses in rodent models. This compromises SGN survival in the long-term, causing hearing loss long after the original exposure. Our studies aim to prevent delayed consequences of noise damage to SGNs by investigating the mechanisms that promote recovery of damage to SGN synapses.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD)
Research Project (R01)
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Auditory System Study Section (AUD)
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Freeman, Nancy
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University of Iowa
Schools of Arts and Sciences
Iowa City
United States
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