Acoustic trauma causes reversible stiffness changes in auditory sensory cells

Neuroscience. 1998 Apr;83(3):961-8. doi: 10.1016/s0306-4522(97)00446-6.


A common cause of hearing impairment is exposure to loud noise. Recent research has demonstrated that the auditory mechanosensory cells are essential for normal hearing sensitivity and frequency selectivity. However, little is known about the effect of noise exposure on the mechanical properties of the auditory sensory cells. Here we report a significant reduction in the stiffness and cell length of the outer hair cells after impulse noise exposure, suggesting that mechanical changes at the cellular level are involved in noise-induced hearing loss. There is a recovery of the cellular stiffness and cell length over a two-week period, indicating an activation of cellular repair mechanisms for restoring the auditory function following noise trauma. The reduced stiffness observed at the cellular level is likely to be the cause for the downward shift of the characteristic frequency seen following acoustic trauma. The deterioration and the recovery of the mechanical properties of outer hair cells may form important underlying factors in all kinds of noise-induced hearing loss.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Membrane / physiology
  • Cochlea / pathology
  • Elasticity
  • Guinea Pigs
  • Hair Cells, Auditory, Outer / pathology
  • Hair Cells, Auditory, Outer / physiology*
  • Hearing Loss, Noise-Induced / pathology
  • Hearing Loss, Noise-Induced / physiopathology*
  • Noise