As with other cranial nerves and many CNS neurons, primary auditory neurons degenerate as a consequence of loss of input from their target cells, the inner hair cells (IHCs). Electrical stimulation (ES) of spiral ganglion cells (SGCs) has been shown to enhance their survival. Glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF) has also been shown to increase survival of SGCs following IHC loss. In this study, the combined effects of the GDNF transgene delivered by adenoviral vectors (Ad-GDNF) and ES were tested on SGCs after first eliminating the IHCs. Animal groups received Ad-GDNF or ES or both. Ad-GDNF was inoculated into the cochlea of guinea pigs after deafening, to overexpress human GDNF. ES-treated animals were implanted with a cochlear implant electrode and chronically stimulated. A third group of animals received both Ad-GDNF and ES (GDNF/ES). Electrically evoked auditory brainstem responses were recorded from ES-treated animals at the start and end of the stimulation period. Animals were sacrificed 43 days after deafening and their ears prepared for evaluation of IHC survival and SGC counts. Treated ears exhibited significantly greater SGC survival than nontreated ears. The GDNF/ES combination provided significantly better preservation of SGC density than either treatment alone. Insofar as ES parameters were optimized for maximal protection (saturated effect), the further augmentation of the protection by GDNF suggests that the mechanisms of GDNF- and ES-mediated SGC protection are, at least in part, independent. We suggest that GDNF/ES combined treatment in cochlear implant recipients will improve auditory perception. These findings may have implications for the prevention and treatment of other neurodegenerative processes.
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