Spiral ganglion neurons depend on neurotrophic factors supplied by hair cells and other targets for their development and continued survival. Loss of this trophic support leads to spiral ganglion neuron death via apoptosis. Hair cells support spiral ganglion neuron survival by producing several peptide neurotrophic factors such as neurotrophin-3 and glial derived neurotrophic factor. In addition, neurotransmitter release from the hair cells drives membrane electrical activity in spiral ganglion neurons which also supports their survival. In animal models, replacement of peptide neurotrophic factors or electrical stimulation with an implanted electrode attenuates spiral ganglion neuron degeneration following deafferentation. Cell death inhibitors can also preserve spiral ganglion neuron populations. Preliminary studies show that transfer of stem cells or neurons from other ganglia are two potential strategies to replace lost spiral ganglion neurons. Inducing the regrowth of spiral ganglion neuron peripheral processes to approximate or contact cochlear implant electrodes may help optimize signaling from a diminished population of neurons.Summary
Recent studies of spiral ganglion neuron development and survival have identified several trophic and neuritogenic factors which protect these specialized cells from degeneration following hair cell loss. While still preliminary, such strategies show promise for future clinical applications.