Jin, David, K.K Ohlemiller, D. Lei, E. Dong, L. Role, D.K. Ryugo, J. Bao. (2010) Age-related neuronal loss in the cochlea is not delayed by synaptic modulation. Neurobiology of Aging (article in press).

Age-related synaptic change is associated with the functional decline of the nervous system. It is unknown whether this synaptic change is the cause or the consequence of neuronal cell loss. We have addressed this question by examining mice genetically engineered to over- or underexpress neuregulin-1 (NRG1), a direct modulator of synaptic transmission. Transgenic mice overexpressing NRG1 in spiral ganglion neurons (SGNs) showed improvements in hearing thresholds, whereas NRG1 -/+ mice show a complementary worsening of thresholds. However, no significant change in age-related loss of SGNs in either NRG1 -/+ mice or mice overexpressing NRG1 was observed, while a negative association between NRG1 expression level and survival of inner hair cells during aging was observed. Subsequent studies provided evidence that modulating NRG1 levels changes synaptic transmission between SGNs and hair cells. One of the most dramatic examples of this was the reversal of lower hearing thresholds by "turning-off" NRG1 overexpression. These data demonstrate for the first time that synaptic modulation is unable to prevent age-related neuronal loss in the cochlea.

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