Selective Inner Hair Cell Loss in Prematurity: A Temporal Bone Study of Infants from a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit
Premature birth is a well-known risk factor for sensorineural hearing loss in general and auditory neuropathy in particular. However, relatively little is known about the underlying causes, in part because there are so few relevant histopathological studies. Here, we report on the analysis of hair cell loss patterns in 54 temporal bones from premature infants and a control group of 46 bones from full-term infants, all of whom spent time in the neonatal intensive care unit at the Hospital de Niños in San Jose, Costa Rica, between 1977 and 1993. The prevalence of significant hair cell loss was higher in the preterm group than the full-term group (41% vs. 28%, respectively). The most striking finding was the frequency of selective inner hair cell loss, an extremely rare histopathological pattern, in the preterm vs. the full-term babies (27% vs. 3%, respectively). The findings suggest that a common cause of non-genetic auditory neuropathy is selective loss of inner hair cells rather than primary damage to the cochlear nerve.