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A microscope image shows nerve cells that relay information from the ear to the brain in mice. A new study shows that these cells alter their behavior and structure when the animalsí hearing is blocked. Credit: Hua Yang
A microscope image shows the location in the brain of a mouse where nerve cells from the ear enter the brain and form cup-like synaptic connections with brain cells. A new study shows that these connections change their behavior and structure when the animalsí hearing is blocked. Credit: Hua Yang
How Hearing Loss Can Change The Way Nerve Cells Are Wired
(13/Dec/2016)

 It's winter, and your head is stuffed up from the cold or flu. Everything sounds muffled.

 
If this has ever happened to you, you may have experienced conductive hearing loss, which occurs when sound can't travel freely from the outer and middle ear to the inner ear. Other common causes include ear infections in children, or a build-up of earwax in older adults.
 
Even short-term blockages of this kind can lead to remarkable changes in the auditory system, altering the behavior and structure of nerve cells that relay information from the ear to the brain, according to a new University at Buffalo study.
 
The research, published online Dec. 1 in the Journal of Neuroscience, looked at what happened when mice had their ears surgically blocked for a period of three days to over a week, dampening hearing.
 
"We wanted to know what happens at the brainstem, in the cells coming from the ear," says Matthew Xu-Friedman, PhD, the lead researcher and an associate professor of biological sciences in UB's College of Arts and Sciences. "What we saw is that some significant changes do occur within a few days.
 
"What's still unclear, however, is whether the cells return to their normal state when acoustic conditions return to normal. We see in our research that the cells do seem to mostly bounce back, but we don't yet know whether they completely recover."