Severe streptomycin ototoxicity in the mouse utricle leads to a flat epithelium but the peripheral neural degeneration is delayed

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The damaged vestibular sensory epithelium of mammals has a limited capacity for spontaneous hair cell regeneration, which largely depends on the transdifferentiation of surviving supporting cells. Little is known about the response of vestibular supporting cells to a severe insult. In the present study, we evaluated the impact of a severe ototoxic insult on the histology of utricular supporting cells and the changes in innervation that ensued. We infused a high dose of streptomycin into the mouse posterior semicircular canal to induce a severe lesion in the utricle. Both scanning electron microscopy and light microscopy of plastic sections showed replacement of the normal cytoarchitecture of the epithelial layer with a flat layer of cells in most of the samples. Immunofluorescence staining showed numerous cells in the severely damaged epithelial layer that were negative for hair cell and supporting cell markers. Nerve fibers under the flat epithelium had high density at the 1 month time point but very low density by 3 months. Similarly, the number of vestibular ganglion neurons was unchanged at 1 month after the lesion, but was significantly lower at 3 months. We therefore determined that the mouse utricular epithelium turns into a flat epithelium after a severe lesion, but the degeneration of neural components is slow, suggesting that treatments to restore balance by hair cell regeneration, stem cell therapy or vestibular prosthesis implantation will likely benefit from the short term preservation of the neural substrate.

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