Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is one of the most common sensorineural hearing deficits. Recent studies have demonstrated that the pathogenesis of NIHL is closely related to ischemia-reperfusion injury of cochlea, which is caused by blood flow decrease and free radical production due to excessive noise. This suggests that protecting the cochlea from oxidative stress is an effective therapeutic approach for NIHL. NRF2 is a transcriptional activator playing an essential role in the defense mechanism against oxidative stress. To clarify the contribution of NRF2 to cochlear protection, we examined Nrf2 -/- mice for susceptibility to NIHL. Threshold shifts of the auditory brainstem response at 7 days post-exposure were significantly larger in Nrf2 -/- mice than wild-type mice. Treatment with CDDO-Im, a potent NRF2-activating drug, before but not after the noise exposure preserved the integrity of hair cells and improved post-exposure hearing levels in wild-type mice, but not in Nrf2 -/- mice. Therefore, NRF2 activation is effective for NIHL prevention. Consistently, a human NRF2 SNP was significantly associated with impaired sensorineural hearing levels in a cohort subjected to occupational noise exposure. Thus, high NRF2 activity is advantageous for cochlear protection from noise-induced injury, and NRF2 is a promising target for NIHL prevention.
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