Immune cells and non-immune cells with immune function in mammalian cochleae

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The cochlea has an immune environment dominated by macrophages under resting conditions. When stressed, circulating monocytes enter the cochlea. These immune mediators, along with cochlear resident cells, organize a complex defense response against pathological challenges. Since the cochlea has minimal exposure to pathogens, most inflammatory conditions in the cochlea are sterile. Although the immune response is initiated for the protection of the cochlea, off-target effects can cause collateral damage to cochlear cells. A better understanding of cochlear immune capacity and regulation would therefore lead to development of new therapeutic treatments. Over the past decade, there have been many advances in our understanding of cochlear immune capacity. In this review, we provide an update and overview of the cellular components of cochlear immune capacity with a focus on macrophages in mammalian cochleae. We describe the composition and distribution of immune cells in the cochlea and suggest that phenotypic and functional characteristics of macrophages have site-specific diversity. We also highlight the response of immune cells to acute and chronic stresses and comment on the potential function of immune cells in cochlear homeostasis and disease development. Finally, we briefly review potential roles for cochlear resident cells in immune activities of the cochlea.

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