Hormone replacement therapy diminishes hearing in peri-menopausal mice

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We recently discovered that progestin in hormone replacement therapy (HRT) for post-menopausal women has detrimental effects on the ear and central auditory system [Guimaraes, P., Frisina, S.T., Mapes, F., Tadros, S.F., Frisina, D.R., Frisina, R.D., 2006. Progestin negatively affects hearing in aged women. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. – PNAS 103, 14246–14249]. To start determining the generality and neural bases of these human findings, the present study examined the effects of combination HRT (estrogen + progestin) and estrogen alone on hearing in peri-menopausal mice. Specifically, auditory brainstem responses (ABRs-sensitivity of the auditory system) and distortion-product otoacoustic emissions (DPOAEs-cochlear outer hair cell system) were employed. Middle age female CBA mice received either a time-release, subcutaneous implanted pellet of estrogen + progestin, estrogen alone, or placebo. Longitudinal comparisons of ABR threshold data obtained at 4 months of treatment revealed statistically significant declines in auditory sensitivity over time for the combined estrogen + progestin treatment group, with the estrogen only group revealing milder changes at 3, 6 and 32 kHz. DPOAE testing revealed statistically significant differences for the estrogen + progestin treatment group in the high and middle frequency ranges (15–29 and 30–45 kHz) after as early as 2 months of treatment (p < 0.01 and p < 0.001, respectively). Statistically significant changes were also seen at 4 months of treatment across all frequencies for the combined HRT group. These data suggest that estrogen + progestin HRT therapy of 4 months duration impairs outer hair cell functioning and overall auditory sensitivity. These findings indicate that estrogen + progestin HRT may actually accelerate age-related hearing loss, relative to estrogen monotherapy; findings that are consistent with the clinical hearing loss observed in aging women that have taken combination HRT.

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