Noise-induced hearing loss: Neuropathic pain via Ntrk1 signaling

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Severe noise-induced damage to the inner ear leads to auditory nerve fiber degeneration thereby reducing the neural input to the cochlear nucleus (CN). Paradoxically, this leads to a significant increase in spontaneous activity in the CN which has been linked to tinnitus, hyperacusis and ear pain. The biological mechanisms that lead to an increased spontaneous activity are largely unknown, but could arise from changes in glutamatergic or GABAergic neurotransmission or neuroinflammation. To test this hypothesis, we unilaterally exposed rats for 2 h to a 126 dB SPL narrow band noise centered at 12 kHz. Hearing loss measured by auditory brainstem responses exceeded 55 dB from 6 to 32 kHz. The mRNA from the exposed CN was harvested at 14 or 28 days post-exposure and qRT-PCR analysis was performed on 168 genes involved in neural inflammation, neuropathic pain and glutamatergic or GABAergic neurotransmission. Expression levels of mRNA of Slc17a6 and Gabrg3, involved in excitation and inhibition respectively, were significantly increased at 28 days post-exposure, suggesting a possible role in the CN spontaneous hyperactivity associated with tinnitus and hyperacusis. In the pain and inflammatory array, noise exposure upregulated mRNA expression levels of four pain/inflammatory genes, Tlr2, Oprd1, Kcnq3 and Ntrk1 and decreased mRNA expression levels of two more genes, Ccl12 and Il1β. Pain/inflammatory gene expression changes via Ntrk1 signaling may induce sterile inflammation, neuropathic pain, microglial activation and migration of nerve fibers from the trigeminal, cuneate and vestibular nuclei into the CN. These changes could contribute to somatic tinnitus, hyperacusis and otalgia.

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