Synaptic transmission at the endbulb of Held deteriorates during age-related hearing loss

J Physiol. 2017 Feb 1;595(3):919-934. doi: 10.1113/JP272683. Epub 2016 Oct 10.


Key points: Synaptic transmission at the endbulb of Held was assessed by whole-cell patch clamp recordings from auditory neurons in mature (2-4 months) and aged (20-26 months) mice. Synaptic transmission is degraded in aged mice, which may contribute to the decline in neural processing of the central auditory system during age-related hearing loss. The changes in synaptic transmission in aged mice can be partially rescued by improving calcium buffering, or decreasing action potential-evoked calcium influx. These experiments suggest potential mechanisms, such as regulating intraterminal calcium, that could be manipulated to improve the fidelity of transmission at the aged endbulb of Held.

Abstract: Age-related hearing loss (ARHL) is associated with changes to the auditory periphery that raise sensory thresholds and alter coding, and is accompanied by alterations in excitatory and inhibitory synaptic transmission, and intrinsic excitability in the circuits of the central auditory system. However, it remains unclear how synaptic transmission changes at the first central auditory synapses during ARHL. Using mature (2-4 months) and old (20-26 months) CBA/CaJ mice, we studied synaptic transmission at the endbulb of Held. Mature and old mice showed no difference in either spontaneous quantal synaptic transmission or low frequency evoked synaptic transmission at the endbulb of Held. However, when challenged with sustained high frequency stimulation, synapses in old mice exhibited increased asynchronous transmitter release and reduced synchronous release. This suggests that the transmission of temporally precise information is degraded at the endbulb during ARHL. Increasing intraterminal calcium buffering with EGTA-AM or decreasing calcium influx with ω-agatoxin IVA decreased the amount of asynchronous release and restored synchronous release in old mice. In addition, recovery from depression following high frequency trains was faster in old mice, but was restored to a normal time course by EGTA-AM treatment. These results suggest that intraterminal calcium in old endbulbs may rise to abnormally high levels during high rates of auditory nerve firing, or that calcium-dependent processes involved in release are altered with age. These observations suggest that ARHL is associated with a decrease in temporal precision of synaptic release at the first central auditory synapse, which may contribute to perceptual deficits in hearing.

Keywords: age related hearing loss; cochlear nucleus; synaptic transmission.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Aging / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Cochlear Nucleus / physiology*
  • Evoked Potentials, Auditory, Brain Stem
  • Excitatory Postsynaptic Potentials
  • Female
  • Hearing Loss / physiopathology*
  • Male
  • Mice, Inbred CBA
  • Synaptic Transmission