Age-related hearing loss is dominated by damage to inner ear sensory cells, not the cellular battery that powers them.
J Neurosci. 2020 Jul 20;:
Authors: Wu PZ, O’Malley JT, de Gruttola V, Liberman MC
Age-related hearing loss arises from irreversible damage in the inner ear, where sound is transduced into electrical signals. Prior human studies suggested that sensory-cell loss is rarely the cause; correspondingly, animal work has implicated the stria vascularis, the cellular “battery” driving the amplification of sound by hair cell “motors”. Here, quantitative microscopic analysis of hair cells, auditory nerve fibers and strial tissues in 120 human inner ears obtained at autopsy, most of whom had recent audiograms in their medical records, shows that the degree of hearing loss is well predicted from the amount of hair cell loss and that inclusion of strial damage does not improve the prediction. Although many aging ears showed significant strial degeneration throughout the cochlea, our statistical models suggest that, by the time strial tissues are lost, hair cell death is so extensive that the loss of battery is no longer important to pure-tone thresholds and that audiogram slope is not diagnostic for strial degeneration. These data comprise the first quantitative survey of hair cell death in normal-aging human cochleas, and reveal unexpectedly severe hair cell loss in low-frequency cochlear regions, and dramatically greater loss in high-frequency regions than seen in any aging animal model. Comparison of normal-aging ears to an age-matched group with acoustic-overexposure history suggests that a lifetime of acoustic overexposure is to blame.Significance StatementThis report upends dogma about the causes of age-related hearing loss. Our analysis of over 120 autopsy specimens shows that inner-ear sensory cell loss can largely explain the audiometric patterns in aging, with minimal contribution from the stria vascularis, the “battery” that powers the inner ear, previously viewed as the major locus of age-related hearing dysfunction. Predicting inner ear damage from the audiogram is critical, now that clinical trials of therapeutics designed to regrow hair cells are underway. Our data also show that hair cell degeneration in aging humans is dramatically worse than that in aging animals, suggesting that the high-frequency hearing losses that define human presbycusis reflect avoidable contributions of chronic ear abuse to which aging animals are not exposed.
PMID: 32690619 [PubMed – as supplied by publisher]