Background: Hearing loss is a frequent long-term complication of pneumococcal meningitis (PM). Its main pathological correlate is damage to the organ of Corti and loss of spiral ganglion neurons. The only current treatment option is cochlear implants which require surviving neurons. Here, we investigated the impact of systemically applied neurotrophin-3 (NT-3) on long-term hearing loss and the survival of neurons.
Methods: Eighteen hours after infection with S. pneumoniae, C57BL/6 mice were treated with a combination of ceftriaxone with NT-3 or dexamethasone or placebo. Hearing, cochlear damage, and brain damage were assessed by audiometry and histology.
Results: The main findings from immunohistochemical visualization of neurotrophins (NT-3, BDNF) and their receptors (TrkB, TrkC, and p75) in the cochlea were (i) enhanced staining for the cell survival-promoting receptor TrkB and (ii) increased NT-3 staining in NT-3 treated mice, showing that systemically applied NT-3 reaches the cochlea. The major effects of adjunctive NT-3 treatment were (i) a reduction of meningitis-induced hearing impairment and (ii) a reduction of spiral ganglion neuronal loss. The efficacy of NT-3 therapy was comparable to that of dexamethasone.
Conclusion: Systemically applied NT-3 might be an interesting candidate to improve hearing outcome after pneumococcal meningitis.