Time Course of Activity-Dependent Changes in Auditory Nerve Synapses Reveals Multiple Underlying Cellular Mechanisms

J Neurosci. 2022 Mar 23;42(12):2492-2502. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1583-21.2022. Epub 2022 Feb 18.


Abnormal levels of acoustic activity can result in hearing problems such as tinnitus and language processing disorders, but the underlying cellular and synaptic changes triggered by abnormal activity are not well understood. To address this issue, we studied the time course of activity-dependent changes that occur at auditory nerve synapses in mice of both sexes after noise exposure and conductive hearing loss. We found that EPSC amplitude and synaptic depression decreased within 2 d of noise exposure through a decrease in the probability of vesicle release (Pr). This was followed by a gradual increase in EPSC amplitude through a larger pool of releasable vesicles (N). Occlusion of the ear canal led to a rapid decrease in EPSC amplitude through a decrease in N, which was followed by an increase in EPSC amplitude and synaptic depression through an increase in Pr After returning to normal sound levels, synaptic depression recovered to control levels within 1-2 d. However, repeated exposure to noise for as little as 8 h/d caused synaptic changes after 7 d, suggesting recovery did not fully offset changes. Thus, there appear to be three activity-dependent mechanisms in auditory nerve synapses-bidirectional changes in Pr in 1-2 d, slower bidirectional changes in N through synaptic growth or retraction, and rapid downregulation of N with low activity. The dynamic changes indicate that multiple mechanisms are present to fine-tune synaptic fidelity across different acoustic conditions in a simple relay.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Hearing impairments can arise from exposure to noise or conductive hearing loss. This appears to result from changes in the brain, but the mechanisms are not well understood. We study this issue by studying the synapses made by auditory nerve fibers called endbulbs of Held. These synapses undergo bidirectional changes in size and release probability of neurotransmitter in response to increased or decreased activity. Here, we made a close examination of how quickly these synaptic characteristics change, which indicates there are at least three cellular mechanisms underlying changes. Furthermore, repeated exposure to brief periods of noise can produce cumulative effects. These changes could significantly affect hearing, especially because they occur at the start of the central auditory pathway.

Keywords: activity-dependent changes; auditory nerve; cochlear nucleus; endbulb of Held; synaptic plasticity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Auditory Pathways
  • Cochlear Nerve* / physiology
  • Female
  • Hearing Loss, Conductive*
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Noise
  • Synapses / metabolism