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Keywords:

  • auditory deprivation;
  • auditory nerve;
  • BDNF;
  • cochlear implant;
  • cochlear spiral ganglion;
  • electrical stimulation;
  • neonatal deafness;
  • primary afferents;
  • neurotrophins

Abstract

Postnatal development and survival of spiral ganglion (SG) neurons depend on both neural activity and neurotrophic support. Our previous studies showed that electrical stimulation from a cochlear implant only partially prevents SG degeneration after early deafness. Thus, neurotrophic agents that might be combined with an implant to improve neural survival are of interest. Recent studies reporting that brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) promotes SG survival after deafness have been conducted in rodents and limited to relatively short durations. Our study examined longer duration BDNF treatment in deafened cats that may better model the slow progression of SG degeneration in human cochleae, and this is the first study of BDNF in the developing auditory system. Kittens were deafened neonatally, implanted at 4–5 weeks with intracochlear electrodes containing a drug-delivery cannula, and BDNF or artificial perilymph was infused for 10 weeks from a miniosmotic pump. In BDNF-treated cochleae, SG cells grew to normal size and were significantly larger than cells on the contralateral side. However, their morphology was not completely normal, and many neurons lacked or had thinned perikaryl myelin. Unbiased stereology was employed to estimate SG cell density, independent of cell size. BDNF was effective in promoting significantly improved survival of SG neurons in these developing animals. BDNF treatment also resulted in higher density and larger size of myelinated radial nerve fibers, sprouting of fibers into the scala tympani, and improvement of electrically evoked auditory brainstem response thresholds. BDNF may have potential therapeutic value in the developing auditory system, but many serious obstacles currently preclude clinical application. J. Comp. Neurol. 519:1526–1545, 2011. © 2010 Wiley-Liss, Inc.