Sensorineural hearing loss is caused by degeneration of hair cells or auditory neurons. Spiral ganglion cells, the primary afferent neurons of the auditory system, are patterned during development and send out projections to hair cells and to the brainstem under the control of largely unknown guidance molecules. The neurons do not regenerate after loss and even damage to their projections tends to be permanent. The genesis of spiral ganglion neurons and their synapses forms a basis for regenerative approaches. In this review we critically present the current experimental findings on auditory neuron replacement. We discuss the latest advances with a focus on (a) exogenous stem cell transplantation into the cochlea for neural replacement, (b) expression of local guidance signals in the cochlea after loss of auditory neurons, (c) the possibility of neural replacement from an endogenous cell source, and (d) functional changes from cell engraftment.
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