Noise exposures causing only transient threshold shifts can destroy auditory-nerve synapses without damaging hair cells. Here, we asked whether virally mediated neurotrophin3 (NT3) overexpression can repair this damage. CBA/CaJ mice at 6 wks were injected unilaterally with adeno-associated virus (AAV) containing either NT3 or GFP genes, via the posterior semicircular canal, 3 wks prior to, or 5 hrs after, noise exposure. Controls included exposed animals receiving vehicle only, and unexposed animals receiving virus. Thresholds were measured 2 wks post-exposure, just before cochleas were harvested for histological analysis. In separate virus-injected animals, unexposed cochleas were extracted for qRT-PCR. The GFP reporter showed that inner hair cells (IHCs) were transfected throughout the cochlea, and outer hair cells mainly in the apex. qRT-PCR showed 4- to 10-fold overexpression of NT3 from 1–21 days post-injection, and 1.7-fold overexpression at 40 days. AAV-NT3 delivered prior to noise exposure produced a dose-dependent reduction of synaptopathy, with nearly complete rescue at some cochlear locations. In unexposed ears, NT3 overexpression did not affect thresholds, however GFP overexpression caused IHC loss. In exposed ears, NT3 overexpression increased permanent threshold shifts. Thus, although NT3 overexpression can minimize noise-induced synaptic damage, the forced overexpression may be harmful to hair cells themselves during cochlear overstimulation.
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