Transmission disrupted: Modeling auditory synaptopathy in zebrafish

Katie S. Kindt, Lavinia Sheets

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Sensorineural hearing loss is the most common form of hearing loss in humans, and results from either dysfunction in hair cells, the sensory receptors of sound, or the neurons that innervate hair cells. A specific type of sensorineural hearing loss, referred to as auditory synaptopathy, occurs when hair cells are able to detect sound but fail to transmit sound stimuli at the hair-cell synapse. Auditory synaptopathy can originate from genetic alterations that specifically disrupt hair-cell synapse function. Additionally, environmental factors such as noise exposure can leave hair cells intact but result in loss of hair-cell synapses, and represent an acquired form of auditory synaptopathy. The zebrafish model has emerged as a valuable system for studies of hair-cell function, and specifically hair-cell synaptopathy. In this review, we describe the experimental tools that have been developed to study hair-cell synapses in zebrafish. We discuss how zebrafish genetics has helped identify and define the roles of hair-cell synaptic proteins crucial for hearing in humans, and highlight how studies in zebrafish have contributed to our understanding of hair-cell synapse formation and function. In addition, we also discuss work that has used noise exposure or pharmacological mimic of noise-induced excitotoxicity in zebrafish to define cellular mechanisms underlying noise-induced hair-cell damage and synapse loss. Lastly, we highlight how future studies in zebrafish could enhance our understanding of the pathological processes underlying synapse loss in both genetic and acquired auditory synaptopathy. This knowledge is critical in order to develop therapies that protect or repair auditory synaptic contacts.

Original languageEnglish
Article number114
JournalFrontiers in Cell and Developmental Biology
Issue numberSEP
StatePublished - Sep 11 2018


  • Deafness/hearing loss
  • Hair cells (HCs)
  • Ribbon synapse
  • Synaptic transmission
  • Zebrafish model system


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