Pax8-/- mice do not develop thyroid follicular structures and thus provide an ideal animal model to study the consequences of congenital hypothyroidism. Despite their athyroidism, Pax8-/- mice survive up to postnatal day 21 (P21). No auditory brain stem responses (ABR) to sound could be recorded in these animals at 130 dB SPL, even at P21, when hearing reaches adult sensitivity in control mice. Abnormalities in the outer and middle ear structures were found in a considerable percentage of Pax8-/- animals. Maturation of the inner ear appeared delayed by about 1 week with respect to euthyroid controls. Hearing of adult Pax8-/- mice could be nearly normalized by early postnatal substitution with thyroxine (T(4)), but structural and functional restoration of hearing was incomplete. Even when T(4) substitution was initiated at P1, ABR thresholds, measured at 6 weeks of age or more, were increased by about 20 dB, and each day of delay in the start of T(4) substitution resulted in an additional threshold loss of about 4 dB. The most prominent structural deficit in Pax8-/- animals in which T(4) substitution was started at P8 or later was an abnormally thick tectorial membrane. In these late-substituted animals, disarray of stereovilli from inner and outer hair cells was observed and also outer hair cell loss was found, predominantly in the basal part of the cochlea. The degree of structural disorder increased the later T(4) substitution was initiated. The structural and functional consequences of postnatal athyroidism observed in Pax8-/- mice are largely in agreement with and extend those data obtained from hypothyroid animal models in which hypothyroidism was induced by goitrogenic agents (methimazole, propylthiouracil) or animal models with disrupted genes for the TSH receptor or the thyroid hormone receptors. The hearing loss and also the recovery effect by T(4) substitution in Pax8-/- mice is larger than that in the other models. Although Pax8-/- mice are born by euthyroid Pax8+/- dams, the Pax8-/- phenotype could not be completely restored by immediate postnatal T(4) substitution, indicating that some deficits are the consequence of prenatal T(4) deficiency of the offspring.
Copyright 2004 S. Karger AG, Basel