Morphological and Functional Evaluation of Ribbon Synapses at Specific Frequency Regions of the Mouse Cochlea

* These authors contributed equally
This article has been accepted and is currently in production

Abstract

Cochlear inner hair cells (IHCs) transmit acoustic signals to spiral ganglion neurons (SGNs) through ribbon synapses. Several experimental studies have indicated that hair cell synapses may be the initial targets in sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL). Such studies have proposed the concept of cochlear "synaptopathy", which refers to alterations in ribbon synapse number, structure, or function that result in abnormal synaptic transmission between IHCs and SGNs. While cochlear synaptopathy is irreversible, it does not affect the hearing threshold. In noise-induced experimental models, restricted damage to IHC synapses in select frequency regions is employed to identify the environmental factors that specifically cause synaptopathy, as well as the physiological consequences of disturbing this inner ear circuit. Here, we present a protocol for analyzing cochlear synaptic morphology and function at a specific frequency region in adult mice. In this protocol, cochlear localization of specific frequency regions is performed using place-frequency maps in conjunction with cochleogram data, following which the morphological characteristics of ribbon synapses are evaluated via synaptic immunostaining. The functional status of ribbon synapses is then determined based on the amplitudes of auditory brainstem response (ABR) wave I. The present report demonstrates that this approach can be used to deepen our understanding of the pathogenesis and mechanisms of synaptic dysfunction in the cochlea, which may aid in the development of novel therapeutic interventions.