Ryugo, D.K., T. Pongstaporn, D.M. Huchton, and J.K. Niparko (1997)
Ultrastructural analysis of primary endings in deaf white cats: Morphologic Alterations in Endbulbs of Held. Journal of Comparative Neurology 385:230-244.

Changes in structure and function of the auditory system can be produced by experimentally manipulating the sensory environment, and especially dramatic effects result from deprivation procedures. An alternative deprivation strategy utilizes naturally occurring lesions. The congenitally deaf white cat represents an animal model of sensory deprivation because it mimics a form of human deafness called the Scheibe deformity and permits studies of how central neurons react to early-onset cochlear degeneration. We studied the synaptic characteristics of the endbulb of Held, a prominent auditory nerve terminal in the cochlear nucleus. Endbulbs arise from the ascending branch of the auditory nerve fiber and contact the cell body of spherical bushy cells. After 6 months, endbulbs of deaf white cats exhibit alterations in structure that are clearly distinguishable from those of normal hearing cats, including a diminution in terminal branching, a reduction in synaptic vesicle density, structural abnormalities in mitochondria, thickening of the pre- and postsynaptic densities, and enlargement of synapse size. The hypertrophied membrane densities are suggestive of a compensatory response to diminished transmitter release. These data reveal that early-onset, long-term deafness produces unambiguous alterations in synaptic structure and may be relevant to rehabilitation strategies that promote aural/oral communication.

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