Cochlear neurodegeneration commonly accompanies hair cell loss resulting from aging, ototoxicity, or exposures to intense noise or blast overpressures. However, the precise pathophysiological mechanisms that drive this degenerative response have not been fully elucidated. Our laboratory previously demonstrated that nontransgenic rats exposed to blast overpressures exhibited marked somatic accumulation of neurotoxic variants of the microtubule-associated protein, Tau, in the hippocampus. In the present study, we extended these analyses to examine neurodegeneration and pathologic Tau accumulation in the auditory system in response to blast exposure and evaluated the potential therapeutic efficacy of antioxidants in short-circuiting this pathological process. Blast injury induced ribbon synapse loss and retrograde neurodegeneration in the cochlea in untreated animals. An accompanying perikaryal accumulation of neurofilament light chain and pathologic Tau oligomers were observed in neurons from both the peripheral and central auditory system, spanning from the spiral ganglion to the auditory cortex. Due to its coincident accumulation pattern and well-documented neurotoxicity, our results suggest that the accumulation of pathologic Tau oligomers may actively contribute to blast-induced cochlear neurodegeneration. Therapeutic intervention with a combinatorial regimen of 2, 4-disulfonyl α-tertiary butyl nitrone (HPN-07) and N-acetylcysteine (NAC) significantly reduced both pathologic Tau accumulation and indications of ongoing neurodegeneration in the cochlea and the auditory cortex. These results demonstrate that a combination of HPN-07 and NAC administrated shortly after a blast exposure can serve as a potential therapeutic strategy for preserving auditory function among military personnel or civilians with blast-induced traumatic brain injuries.


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