To determine whether responses during infrared neural stimulation (INS) result from the direct interaction with spiral ganglion neurons (SGNs), we tested three genetically modified deaf mouse models: Atoh1-cre; Atoh1 f/f (Atoh1 conditional knockout, CKO), Atoh1-cre; Atoh1 f/kiNeurog1 (Neurog1 knockin, KI), and the Vglut3 knockout (Vglut3 -/-) mice. All animals were exposed to tone bursts and clicks up to 107 dB (re 20 μPa) and to INS, delivered with a 200 μm optical fiber. The wavelength (λ) was 1860 nm, the radiant energy (Q) 0-800 μJ/pulse, and the pulse width (PW) 100-500 μs. No auditory responses to acoustic stimuli could be evoked in any of these animals. INS could not evoke auditory brainstem responses in Atoh1 CKO mice but could in Neurog1 KI and Vglut3 -/- mice. X-ray micro-computed tomography of the cochleae showed that responses correlated with the presence of SGNs and hair cells. Results in Neurog1 KI mice do not support a mechanical stimulation through the vibration of the basilar membrane, but cannot rule out the direct activation of the inner hair cells. Results in Vglut3 -/- mice, which have no synaptic transmission between inner hair cells and SGNs, suggested that hair cells are not required.
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