The search for noise-induced cochlear synaptopathy in humans: Mission impossible?

Naomi Bramhall, Elizabeth Beach, Bastian Epp, Colleen G. Le Prell, Enrique A. Lopez-Poveda, Chris Plack, Roland Schaette, Sarah Verhulst, Barbara Canlon

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Animal studies demonstrate that noise exposure can permanently damage the synapses between inner hair cells and auditory nerve fibers, even when outer hair cells are intact and there is no clinically relevant permanent threshold shift. Synaptopathy disrupts the afferent connection between the cochlea and the central auditory system and is predicted to impair speech understanding in noisy environments and potentially result in tinnitus and/or hyperacusis. While cochlear synaptopathy has been demonstrated in numerous experimental animal models, synaptopathy can only be confirmed through post-mortem temporal bone analysis, making it difficult to study in living humans. A variety of non-invasive measures have been used to determine whether noise-induced synaptopathy occurs in humans, but the results are conflicting. The overall objective of this article is to synthesize the existing data on the functional impact of noise-induced synaptopathy in the human auditory system. The first section of the article summarizes the studies that provide evidence for and against noise-induced synaptopathy in humans. The second section offers potential explanations for the differing results between studies. The final section outlines suggested methodologies for diagnosing synaptopathy in humans with the aim of improving consistency across studies.
Original languageEnglish
JournalHearing Research
Early online date9 Mar 2019
Publication statusPublished - 2019


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