Background and Objectives: Epidemiological data indicate that blast exposure is the most common morbidity responsible for mild TBI among Service Members (SMs) during recent military operations. Blast-induced tinnitus is a comorbidity frequently reported by veterans, and despite its wide prevalence, it is also one of the least understood. Tinnitus arising from blast exposure is usually associated with direct structural damage that results in a conductive and sensorineural impairment in the auditory system. Tinnitus is also believed to be initiated by abnormal neuronal activities and temporal changes in neuroplasticity. Clinically, it is observed that tinnitus is frequently accompanied by sleep disruption as well as increased anxiety. In this study, we elucidated some of the mechanistic aspects of sensorineural injury caused by exposure to both shock waves and impulsive noise. The isolated conductive auditory damage hypothesis was minimized by employing an animal model wherein both ears were protected. Materials and Methods: After the exposure, the animals’ hearing circuitry status was evaluated via acoustic startle response (ASR) to distinguish between hearing loss and tinnitus. We also compared the blast-induced tinnitus against the well-established sodium salicylate-induced tinnitus model as the positive control. The state of the sensorineural auditory system was evaluated by auditory brainstem response (ABR), and this test helped examine the neuronal circuits between the cochlea and inferior colliculus. We then further evaluated the role of the excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmitter receptors and neuronal synapses in the auditory cortex (AC) injury after blast exposure. Results: We observed sustained elevated ABR thresholds in animals exposed to blast shock waves, while only transient ABR threshold shifts were observed in the impulsive noise group solely at the acute time point. These changes were in concert with the increased expression of ribbon synapses, which is suggestive of neuroinflammation and cellular energy metabolic disorder. It was also found that the onset of tinnitus was accompanied by anxiety, depression-like symptoms, and altered sleep patterns. By comparing the effects of shock wave exposure and impulsive noise exposure, we unveiled that the shock wave exerted more significant effects on tinnitus induction and sensorineural impairments when compared to impulsive noise. Conclusions: In this study, we systematically studied the auditory system structural and functional changes after blast injury, providing more significant insights into the pathophysiology of blast-induced tinnitus.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- blast overpressure
- hearing loss
- impulsive noise