Recent studies have identified sex-differences in auditory physiology and in the susceptibility to noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). We hypothesize that 17β-estradiol (E2), a known modulator of auditory physiology, may underpin sex-differences in the response to noise trauma. Here, we gonadectomized B6CBAF1/J mice and used a combination of electrophysiological and histological techniques to study the effects of estrogen replacement on peripheral auditory physiology in the absence of noise exposure and on protection from NIHL. Functional analysis of auditory physiology in gonadectomized female mice revealed that E2-treatment modulated the peripheral response to sound in the absence of changes to the endocochlear potential compared to vehicle-treatment. E2-replacement in gonadectomized female mice protected against hearing loss following permanent threshold shift (PTS)- and temporary threshold shift (TTS)-inducing noise exposures. Histological analysis of the cochlear tissue revealed that E2-replacement mitigated outer hair cell loss and cochlear synaptopathy following noise exposure compared to vehicle-treatment. Lastly, using fluorescent in situ hybridization, we demonstrate co-localization of estrogen receptor-2 with type-1C, high threshold spiral ganglion neurons, suggesting that the observed protection from cochlear synaptopathy may occur through E2-mediated preservation of these neurons. Taken together, these data indicate the estrogen signaling pathways may be harnessed for the prevention and treatment of NIHL.
Keywords: auditory physiology; cochlear synaptopathy; estrogen; inner ear; mouse model; noise-induced hearing loss; sex-differences.