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Two recent research studies with mice that might tell us a little more about age-related hearing loss

The first study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It reported that age-related hearing loss starts with oxidative stress brought on by free radicals. This stress triggers cell death. In some mice, this age-related hearing loss did not occur because they lacked the Bak gene which mice normally have and which plays a role in the cell death. If this oxidative stress could be prevented, it may lead to ways to prevent hearing loss due to age. Another article about this study appears online at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health website.
The second study was published in Neurobiology of Aging. In this study, two strains of mice were interbred. The cross-breeding produced a new strain of mice that both breeds well and hears well into old age. This strain mirrors the 5% of humans that have "golden ears" that function well into old age. This should help scientists understand more about how a person's hearing changes with age. Another article about this study appears in Scientific American.

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    Age-related hearing loss (AHL), known as presbycusis, is a universal feature of mammalian aging and is the most common sensory disorder in the elderly population. The molecular mechanisms underlying AHL are unknown, and currently there is no treatment for the disorder. Here we report that C57BL/6J mice with a deletion of the mitochondrial pro-apoptotic gene Bak exhibit reduced age-related apoptotic cell death of spiral ganglion neurons and hair cells in the cochlea, and prevention of AH...
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    Age-related hearing loss – presbycusis – is the most common communication problem and third most prevalent chronic medical disorder of the aged. The CBA and C57BL/6 mouse strains are useful for studying features of presbycusis. The CBA loses its hearing slowly, like most humans. Because the C57 develops a rapid, high frequency hearing loss by middle age, it has an “old” ear but a relatively young brain, a model that helps separate peripheral (cochlear) from central (brain) etiologies. This...
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    Frisina and his team had inadvertently created an animal model for studying the age-related hearing problems that occur in the brain rather than the ear. Some researchers suspect these problems stem from cognitive decline, but the complexity of the mammalian auditory system makes it difficult to determine cause and effect. "In most mammals, if you want to study age-related hearing loss in the brain, you have to go through an old ear, which distorts the signal," he says. "With this new mouse line
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    The study has identified a gene that is essential to age-related hearing loss, a condition marked by deaths of sensory hair cells and spiral ganglion neurons in the inner ear. These cells are at the heart of the conversion of vibrations into nerve impulses that the brain can decipher, and yet these cells cannot be regenerated.