An increasing number of studies show that listeners often have difficulty hearing in situations with background noise, despite normal tuning curves in quiet. One potential source of this difficulty could be sensorineural changes in the auditory periphery (the ear). Signal in noise detection deficits also arise in animals raised with developmental conductive hearing loss (CHL), a manipulation that induces acoustic attenuation to model how sound deprivation changes the central auditory system. This model attributes perceptual deficits to central changes by assuming that CHL does not affect sensorineural elements in the periphery that could raise masked thresholds. However, because of efferent feedback, altering the auditory system could affect cochlear elements. Indeed, recent studies show that adult-onset CHL can cause cochlear synapse loss, potentially calling into question the assumption of an intact periphery in early-onset CHL. To resolve this issue, we tested the long-term peripheral effects of CHL via developmental bilateral malleus displacement. Using forward masking tuning curves, we compared peripheral tuning in animals raised with CHL vs age-matched controls. Using compound action potential measurements from the round window, we assessed inner hair cell synapse integrity. Results indicate that developmental CHL can cause minor synaptopathy. However, developmental CHL does not appreciably alter peripheral frequency tuning.
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