Relationship between noise-induced hearing-loss, persistent tinnitus and growth-associated protein-43 expression in the rat cochlear nucleus: does synaptic plasticity in ventral cochlear nucleus suppress tinnitus?

Neuroscience. 2011 Oct 27;194:309-25. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2011.07.056. Epub 2011 Jul 28.


Aberrant, lesion-induced neuroplastic changes in the auditory pathway are believed to give rise to the phantom sound of tinnitus. Noise-induced cochlear damage can induce extensive fiber growth and synaptogenesis in the cochlear nucleus, but it is currently unclear if these changes are linked to tinnitus. To address this issue, we unilaterally exposed nine rats to narrow-band noise centered at 12 kHz at 126 dB sound pressure level (SPL) for 2 h and sacrificed them 10 weeks later for evaluation of synaptic plasticity (growth-associated protein 43 [GAP-43] expression) in the cochlear nucleus. Noise-exposed rats along with three age-matched controls were screened for tinnitus-like behavior with gap prepulse inhibition of the acoustic startle (GPIAS) before, 1-10 days after, and 8-10 weeks after the noise exposure. All nine noise-exposed rats showed similar patterns of severe hair cell loss at high- and mid-frequency regions in the exposed ear. Eight of the nine showed strong up-regulation of GAP-43 in auditory nerve fibers and pronounced shrinkage of the ventral cochlear nucleus (VCN) on the noise-exposed side, and strong up-regulation of GAP-43 in the medial ventral VCN, but not in the lateral VCN or the dorsal cochlear nucleus. GAP-43 up-regulation in VCN was significantly greater in Noise-No-Tinnitus rats than in Noise-Tinnitus rats. One Noise-No-Tinnitus rat showed no up-regulation of GAP-43 in auditory nerve fibers and only little VCN shrinkage, suggesting that auditory nerve degeneration plays a role in tinnitus generation. Our results suggest that noise-induced tinnitus is suppressed by strong up-regulation of GAP-43 in the medial VCN. GAP-43 up-regulation most likely originates from medial olivocochlear neurons. Their increased excitatory input on inhibitory neurons in VCN may possibly reduce central hyperactivity and tinnitus.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cochlear Nucleus / metabolism*
  • Cochlear Nucleus / pathology
  • Cochlear Nucleus / physiopathology
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • GAP-43 Protein / biosynthesis*
  • GAP-43 Protein / genetics*
  • GAP-43 Protein / metabolism
  • Hearing Loss, Noise-Induced / genetics
  • Hearing Loss, Noise-Induced / metabolism*
  • Hearing Loss, Noise-Induced / physiopathology
  • Male
  • Neuronal Plasticity / genetics
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Synapses / genetics
  • Synapses / physiology*
  • Tinnitus / metabolism*
  • Tinnitus / physiopathology
  • Tinnitus / prevention & control*
  • Up-Regulation / genetics


  • GAP-43 Protein