Sensorineural losses of hearing and vestibular sensation due to hair cell dysfunction are among the most common disabilities. Recent preclinical research demonstrates that treatment of the inner ear with a variety of compounds, including gene therapy agents, may elicit regeneration and/or repair of hair cells in animals exposed to ototoxic medications or other insults to the inner ear. Delivery of gene therapy may also offer a means for treatment of hereditary hearing loss. However, injection of a fluid volume sufficient to deliver an adequate dose of a pharmacologic agent could, in theory, cause inner ear trauma that compromises functional outcome. The primary goal of the present study was to assess that risk in rhesus monkeys, which closely approximates humans with regard to middle and inner ear anatomy. Secondary goals were to identify the best delivery route into the primate ear from among two common surgical approaches (i.e., via an oval window stapedotomy and via the round window) and to determine the relative volumes of rhesus, rodent, and human labyrinths for extrapolation of results to other species. We measured hearing and vestibular functions before and 2, 4, and 8 weeks after unilateral injection of phosphate-buffered saline vehicle (PBSV) into the perilymphatic space of normal rhesus monkeys at volumes sufficient to deliver an atoh1 gene therapy vector. To isolate effects of injection, PBSV without vector was used. Assays included behavioral observation, auditory brainstem responses, distortion product otoacoustic emissions, and scleral coil measurement of vestibulo-ocular reflexes during whole-body rotation in darkness. Three groups (N = 3 each) were studied. Group A received a 10 μL transmastoid/trans-stapes injection via a laser stapedotomy. Group B received a 10 μL transmastoid/trans-round window injection. Group C received a 30 μL transmastoid/trans-round window injection. We also measured inner ear fluid space volume via 3D reconstruction of computed tomography (CT) images of adult C57BL6 mouse, rat, rhesus macaque, and human temporal bones (N = 3 each). Injection was well tolerated by all animals, with eight of nine exhibiting no signs of disequilibrium and one animal exhibiting transient disequilibrium that resolved spontaneously by 24 h after surgery. Physiologic results at the final, 8-week post-injection measurement showed that injection was well tolerated. Compared to its pretreatment values, no treated ear's ABR threshold had worsened by more than 5 dB at any stimulus frequency; distortion product otoacoustic emissions remained detectable above the noise floor for every treated ear (mean, SD and maximum deviation from baseline: -1.3, 9.0, and -18 dB, respectively); and no animal exhibited a reduction of more than 3 % in vestibulo-ocular reflex gain during high-acceleration, whole-body, passive yaw rotations in darkness toward the treated side. All control ears and all operated ears with definite histologic evidence of injection through the intended site showed similar findings, with intact hair cells in all five inner ear sensory epithelia and intact auditory/vestibular neurons. The relative volumes of mouse, rat, rhesus, and human inner ears as measured by CT were (mean ± SD) 2.5 ± 0.1, 5.5 ± 0.4, 59.4 ± 4.7 and 191.1 ± 4.7 μL. These results indicate that injection of PBSV at volumes sufficient for gene therapy delivery can be accomplished without destruction of inner ear structures required for hearing and vestibular sensation.
Keywords: auditory brainstem response; gene therapy; inner ear; otoacoustic emission; safety; vestibular ocular reflex; volume.