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Cochlear Efferent Innervation Is Sparse in Humans and Decreases with Age.

Authors
  • Liberman, Leslie D1
  • Liberman, M Charles2, 3
  • 1 Eaton-Peabody Laboratories, Massachusetts Eye and Ear, Boston, Massachusetts 02114, and.
  • 2 Eaton-Peabody Laboratories, Massachusetts Eye and Ear, Boston, Massachusetts 02114, and [email protected]
  • 3 Department of Otolaryngology, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts 02115.
Type
Published Article
Journal
Journal of Neuroscience
Publisher
Society for Neuroscience
Publication Date
Nov 27, 2019
Volume
39
Issue
48
Pages
9560–9569
Identifiers
DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3004-18.2019
PMID: 31628179
Source
Medline
Keywords
Language
English
License
Unknown

Abstract

The mammalian cochlea is innervated by two cholinergic feedback systems called the medial olivocochlear (MOC) and lateral olivocochlear (LOC) pathways, which send control signals from the brainstem back to the outer hair cells and auditory-nerve fibers, respectively. Despite countless studies of the cochlear projections of these efferent fibers in animal models, comparable data for humans are almost completely lacking. Here, we immunostained the cochlear sensory epithelium from 23 normal-aging humans (14 males and 9 females), 0-86 years of age, with cholinergic markers to quantify the normal density of MOC and LOC projections, and the degree of age-related degeneration. In younger ears, the MOC density peaks in mid-cochlear regions and falls off both apically and basally, whereas the LOC innervation peaks near the apex. In older ears, MOC density decreases dramatically, whereas the LOC density does not. The loss of MOC feedback may contribute to the age-related decrease in word recognition in noise; however, even at its peak, the MOC density is lower than in other mammals, suggesting the MOC pathway is less important for human hearing.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT The cochlear epithelium and its sensory innervation are modulated by the olivocochlear (OC) efferent pathway. Although the medial OC (MOC) reflex has been extensively studied in humans, via contralateral sound suppression, the cochlear projections of these cholinergic neurons have not been described in humans. Here, we use immunostaining to quantify the MOC projections to outer hair cells and lateral OC (LOC) projections to the inner hair cell area in humans 0-89 years of age. We show age-related loss of MOC, but not LOC, innervation, which likely contributes to hearing impairments, and a relative paucity of MOC terminals at all ages, which may account for the relative weakness of the human MOC reflex and the difficulty in demonstrating a robust functional role in human experiments. Copyright © 2019 the authors.

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