Noise exposure damages sensory hair cells, resulting in loss of synaptic connections with auditory nerves and hair-cell death. The cellular mechanisms underlying noise-induced hair-cell damage and subsequent repair are not completely understood. Hair cells in neuromasts (NMs) of larval zebrafish are structurally and functionally comparable to mammalian hair cells but undergo robust regeneration following damage. We therefore developed a model for noise-induced hair-cell damage in this highly tractable system. Free swimming larvae exposed to strong water current for 2 hours displayed damage to NMs, including synapse loss, afferent neurite retraction, damaged hair bundles, and reduced mechanotransduction. Overstimulation also elicited an inflammatory response and macrophage recruitment. Remarkably, NM morphology and function appeared to fully recover within 2 days following exposure. Our results reveal morphological and functional changes in mechanically overstimulated lateral-line NMs that are analogous to changes observed in noise-exposed mammalian ear yet are rapidly and completely repaired.
bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience