Streptococcus pneumoniae-induced ototoxicity in organ of Corti explant cultures

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Hearing loss remains the most common long-term complication of pneumococcal meningitis (PM) reported in up to 30% of survivors. Streptococcus pneumoniae have been shown to possess different ototoxic properties. Here we present a novel ex vivo experimental setup to examine in detail the pattern of hair cell loss upon exposure to different S. pneumoniae strains, therefore recapitulating pathogen derived aspects of PM-induced hearing loss. Our results show a higher susceptibility towards S. pneumoniae-induced cochlear damage for outer hair cells (OHC) compared to inner hair cells (IHC), which is consistent with in vivo data. S. pneumoniae-induced hair cell loss was both time and dose-dependent. Moreover, we have found significant differences in the level of cell damage between tissue from the basal and the apical turns. This shows that the higher vulnerability of hair cells located at high frequency regions observed in vivo cannot be explained solely by the spatial organisation and bacterial infiltration from the basal portion of the cochlea. Using a wild type D39 strain and a mutant defective for the pneumolysin (PLY) gene, we also have shown that the toxin PLY is an important factor involved in ototoxic damages. The obtained results indicate that PLY can cause both IHC and OHC loss. Finally, we are reporting here for the first time a higher vulnerability of HC located at the basal and middle cochlear region to pneumolysin-induced damage. The detailed description of the susceptibility of hair cells to Streptococcus pneumoniae provided in this report can in the future determine the choice and the development of novel otoprotective therapies during pneumococcal meningitis.

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