Ruili Xie in the labRuili Xie, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery at The Ohio State University College of Medicine, was recently awarded a five-year National Institutes of Health Research Project Grant (R01) for his continued work in auditory nerve synaptopathy and the mechanisms underlying noise-induced hearing loss, particularly in the elderly.

In noise-induced hearing loss, there’s a disconnect between what happens in the ear and what gets translated to the brain.

“We know that noise preferentially damages some cells more than others in the ear,” Dr. Xie says. “The questions we are evaluating are: How do such selective damages uniquely change the way the neural network functions in the brain during hearing loss? And what changes in the process are due to aging or hearing loss alone?”

Dr. Xie’s work is unique because it aims to study the effect of noise-induced hearing loss on the function and anatomical integrity of the cochlear nucleus specifically, using a combination of electrophysiology with immunohistochemistry on animal models.

“These methods have been used separately in the past but combining them helps us learn both morphology and physiology of specific cell types and how they are preferentially changed by aging and noise,” Dr. Xie says. “It’s a novel approach in the audiology field particularly.”

The results of this research have the potential to improve current clinical interventions for hearing loss, including improving performance for cochlear implants. For instance, understanding these mechanisms means the chance to optimize how cochlear implants can better stimulate the auditory nerve based on the changes in the cells of the cochlear nucleus.

Dr. Xie’s previous research analyzed the synaptic properties of the auditory nerve terminals, and he was the first to evaluate how the synaptic changes associated with aging contribute to hearing loss.

“Dr. Xie’s work is extremely innovative and is one step toward a better understanding of the detrimental effect of noise-induced hearing loss on the auditory system,” says Shuman He, MD, PhD, vice chair of Research in the Department of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery in the Ohio State College of Medicine. “I’m proud that our university provides faculty members with the extensive core research facilities and resources they need to achieve such groundbreaking work, and we’re very excited to see where Dr. Xie’s outcomes lead us.”

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