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Rapid exhaustion of auditory neural conduction in a prototypical mitochondrial disease, Friedreich ataxia

In patients with Friedreich ataxia (FRDA), mitochondrial failure leads to impaired cellular energetics. Since many FRDA patients have impaired hearing in noise, this group investigated the objective consequences on standard auditory brainstem-evoked responses (ABRs). In 37 FRDA patients, among whom 34 with abnormal standard ABRs, hearing sensitivity, speech-in-noise intelligibility and otoacoustic emissions were controlled. ABR recordings were split into four consecutive segments of the total time frame used for data collection, thus allowing the dynamics of ABR averaging to be observed. Most ears showed features of an auditory neuropathy spectrum disorder with flattened ABRs and impaired speech-in-noise intelligibility contrasting with near-normal hearing sensitivity and normal preneural responses. Yet split-ABRs revealed short-lived wave patterns in 26 out of 68 ears with flattened standard ABRs (38%). While averaging went on, the pattern of waves shifted so that interwave latencies increased by 35% on average. The group concludes that in FRDA, the assumption of stationarity used for extracting standard ABRs is invalid. The preservation of early split-ABRs indicates no short-term dyssynchrony of action potentials. A large decrease in conduction velocity along auditory neurons occurs within seconds, attributed to fast energetic failure. This model of metabolic sensory neuropathy warns against exposure of metabolically-impaired patients to sustained auditory stimulation.

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Jane Larkindale

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