News Release 

Hair cell loss causes age-related hearing loss

Much of age-related hearing loss may be completely avoidable

Society for Neuroscience

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IMAGE: Three features were used to predict hearing level (D): auditory nerve fibers (A), stria vascularis (B), and hair cells (C). view more 

Credit: Wu et al., JNeurosci 2020

Age-related hearing loss has more to do with the death of hair cells than the cellular battery powering them wearing out, according to new research in JNeurosci. That means wearing ear protection may prevent some age-related hearing loss.

Every day, people subject their ears and the delicate hair cells -- the cells inside the cochlea that turn sound waves into electrical signals -- within them to damaging noisy environments and too-loud headphones. However, ears also age. Both the hair cells and the stria vascularis, the cellular battery powering them, degrade with age. For 60 years, scientists attributed noise-induced hearing loss to hair cell death and age-related hearing loss to stria vascularis damage. But a new study from Wu et al. proves otherwise: age-related hearing loss in humans stems from hair cell death, not stria vascularis damage.

The research team counted surviving hair cells, auditory nerve fibers, and stria vascularis area in cochlea samples from 120 people and compared the damage to hearing test scores. Hair cell death predicted the severity of hearing loss, while stria vascularis damage did not. This contradicts findings in animal models, where the opposite is true. But animals do not experience the same auditory abuses as humans, which may mean that much of age-related hair cell loss is noise-induced, and therefore avoidable.

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Manuscript title: Age-Related Hearing Loss Is Dominated by Damage to Inner Ear Sensory Cells, Not the Cellular Battery That Powers Them

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About JNeurosci

JNeurosci, the Society for Neuroscience's first journal, was launched in 1981 as a means to communicate the findings of the highest quality neuroscience research to the growing field. Today, the journal remains committed to publishing cutting-edge neuroscience that will have an immediate and lasting scientific impact, while responding to authors' changing publishing needs, representing breadth of the field and diversity in authorship.

About The Society for Neuroscience

The Society for Neuroscience is the world's largest organization of scientists and physicians devoted to understanding the brain and nervous system. The nonprofit organization, founded in 1969, now has nearly 37,000 members in more than 90 countries and over 130 chapters worldwide.

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