Non-monotonic relation between noise exposure severity and neuronal hyperactivity in the auditory midbrain

Lara Li Hesse, Warren Bakay, Hui Ching Ong, Lucy Anderson, Jonathan Ashmore, David McAlpine, Jennifer Linden, Roland Schaette*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Citations (Scopus)
35 Downloads (Pure)


The occurrence of tinnitus can be linked to hearing loss in the majority of cases, but there is nevertheless a large degree of unexplained heterogeneity in the relation between hearing loss and tinnitus. Part of the problem might be that hearing loss is usually quantified in terms of increased hearing thresholds, which only provides limited information about the underlying cochlear damage. Moreover, noise exposure that does not cause hearing threshold loss can still lead to "hidden hearing loss" (HHL), i.e., functional deafferentation of auditory nerve fibers (ANFs) through loss of synaptic ribbons in inner hair cells. While it is known that increased hearing thresholds can trigger increases in spontaneous neural activity in the central auditory system, i.e., a putative neural correlate of tinnitus, the central effects of HHL have not yet been investigated. Here, we exposed mice to octave-band noise at 100 and 105 dB SPL to generate HHL and permanent increases of hearing thresholds, respectively. Deafferentation of ANFs was confirmed through measurement of auditory brainstem responses and cochlear immunohistochemistry. Acute extracellular recordings from the auditory midbrain (inferior colliculus) demonstrated increases in spontaneous neuronal activity (a putative neural correlate of tinnitus) in both groups. Surprisingly, the increase in spontaneous activity was most pronounced in the mice with HHL, suggesting that the relation between hearing loss and neuronal hyperactivity might be more complex than currently understood. Our computational model indicated that these differences in neuronal hyperactivity could arise from different degrees of deafferentation of low-threshold ANFs in the two exposure groups. Our results demonstrate that HHL is sufficient to induce changes in central auditory processing, and they also indicate a non-monotonic relationship between cochlear damage and neuronal hyperactivity, suggesting an explanation for why tinnitus might occur without obvious hearing loss and conversely why hearing loss does not always lead to tinnitus.

Original languageEnglish
Article number133
Pages (from-to)1-13
Number of pages13
JournalFrontiers in Neurology
Publication statusPublished - 25 Aug 2016
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2016. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • Cochlear damage
  • Computational model
  • Hearing loss
  • Hidden hearing loss
  • Mouse model
  • Neuronal hyperactivity
  • Noise exposure
  • Tinnitus


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