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Journal Article

Disturbed Balance of Inhibitory Signaling Links Hearing Loss and Cognition


Hagberg,  GE
Department High-Field Magnetic Resonance, Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics, Max Planck Society;
Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics, Max Planck Society;

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Knipper, M., Singer, W., Schwabe, K., Hagberg, G., Hegner, Y., Rüttiger, L., et al. (2022). Disturbed Balance of Inhibitory Signaling Links Hearing Loss and Cognition. Frontiers in Neural Circuits, 15: 785603. doi:10.3389/fncir.2021.785603.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0009-DBDB-A
Neuronal hyperexcitability in the central auditory pathway linked to reduced inhibitory activity is associated with numerous forms of hearing loss, including noise damage, age-dependent hearing loss, and deafness, as well as tinnitus or auditory processing deficits in autism spectrum disorder (ASD). In most cases, the reduced central inhibitory activity and the accompanying hyperexcitability are interpreted as an active compensatory response to the absence of synaptic activity, linked to increased central neural gain control (increased output activity relative to reduced input). We here suggest that hyperexcitability also could be related to an immaturity or impairment of tonic inhibitory strength that typically develops in an activity-dependent process in the ascending auditory pathway with auditory experience. In these cases, high-SR auditory nerve fibers, which are critical for the shortest latencies and lowest sound thresholds, may have either not matured (possibly in congenital deafness or autism) or are dysfunctional (possibly after sudden, stressful auditory trauma or age-dependent hearing loss linked with cognitive decline). Fast auditory processing deficits can occur despite maintained basal hearing. In that case, tonic inhibitory strength is reduced in ascending auditory nuclei, and fast inhibitory parvalbumin positive interneuron (PV-IN) dendrites are diminished in auditory and frontal brain regions. This leads to deficits in central neural gain control linked to hippocampal LTP/LTD deficiencies, cognitive deficits, and unbalanced extra-hypothalamic stress control. Under these conditions, a diminished inhibitory strength may weaken local neuronal coupling to homeostatic vascular responses required for the metabolic support of auditory adjustment processes. We emphasize the need to distinguish these two states of excitatory/inhibitory imbalance in hearing disorders: (i) Under conditions of preserved fast auditory processing and sustained tonic inhibitory strength, an excitatory/inhibitory imbalance following auditory deprivation can maintain precise hearing through a memory linked, transient disinhibition that leads to enhanced spiking fidelity (central neural gain⇑) (ii) Under conditions of critically diminished fast auditory processing and reduced tonic inhibitory strength, hyperexcitability can be part of an increased synchronization over a broader frequency range, linked to reduced spiking reliability (central neural gain⇓). This latter stage mutually reinforces diminished metabolic support for auditory adjustment processes, increasing the risks for canonical dementia syndromes.