Acquired hearing loss is the predominant neurodegenerative condition associated with aging in humans. Although mutations on several genes are known to cause congenital deafness in newborns, few genes have been implicated in age-related hearing loss (ARHL), perhaps because its cause is likely polygenic. Here, we generated mice lacking lysosomal calcium channel mucolipins 3 and 1 and discovered that both male and female mice suffered a polygenic form of hearing loss. Whereas mucolipin 1 is ubiquitously expressed in all cells, mucolipin 3 is expressed in a small subset of cochlear cells, hair cells (HCs) and marginal cells of the stria vascularis, and very few other cell types. Mice lacking both mucolipins 3 and 1, but not either one alone, experienced hearing loss as early as at 1 month of age. The severity of hearing impairment progressed from high to low frequencies and increased with age. Early onset of ARHL in these mice was accompanied by outer HC (OHC) loss. Adult mice conditionally lacking mucolipins in HCs exhibited comparable auditory phenotypes, thereby revealing that the reason for OHC loss is mucolipin codeficiency in the HCs and not in the stria vascularis. Furthermore, we observed that OHCs lacking mucolipins contained abnormally enlarged lysosomes aggregated at the apical region of the cell, whereas other organelles appeared normal. We also demonstrated that these aberrant lysosomes in OHCs lost their membrane integrity through lysosomal membrane permeabilization, a known cause of cellular toxicity that explains why and how OHCs die, leading to premature ARHL.
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