Sensory input has profound effects on neuronal organization and sensory maps in the brain. The mechanisms regulating plasticity of the auditory pathway have been revealed by examining the consequences of altered auditory input during both developmental critical periods-when plasticity facilitates the optimization of neural circuits in concert with the external environment-and in adulthood-when hearing loss is linked to the generation of tinnitus. In this review, we summarize research identifying the molecular, cellular, and circuit-level mechanisms regulating neuronal organization and tonotopic map plasticity during developmental critical periods and in adulthood. These mechanisms are shared in both the juvenile and adult brain and along the length of the auditory pathway, where they serve to regulate disinhibitory networks, synaptic structure and function, as well as structural barriers to plasticity. Regulation of plasticity also involves both neuromodulatory circuits, which link plasticity with learning and attention, as well as ascending and descending auditory circuits, which link the auditory cortex and lower structures. Further work identifying the interplay of molecular and cellular mechanisms associating hearing loss-induced plasticity with tinnitus will continue to advance our understanding of this disorder and lead to new approaches to its treatment.
Keywords: Aging; Auditory brainstem; Auditory cortex; Developmental critical periods; Hearing loss; Hidden hearing loss; Neuronal reorganization; Sensory deprivation; Synaptopathy; Tinnitus.
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