The neuropharmacological and cochleotoxic effects of styrene can exacerbate the impact of noise on the peripheral auditory receptor. The mechanisms through which co-exposure to noise and styrene impairs hearing are complex as the slowly developing cochleotoxic process can be masked in the short-term by the rapid pharmacological effect on the central nervous system. The current investigation was therefore designed to delineate the auditory frequency range sensitive to noise, to styrene, and to noise and styrene combined. In case of different frequency ranges targeted by noise and styrene, it would be possible to point out the main factor responsible for cases of deafness by looking at the location of the audiometric deficits. Male Brown-Norway rats were exposed to 600-ppm styrene, to an octave band noise centered at 8. kHz, or to both noise and styrene. The noise exposure was of two different types: impulse noise with a LEX,8. h (equivalent continuous noise level averaged over 8. h) of 80. dB and continuous noise with a LEX,8. h of 85. dB SPL. Hearing was tested using a non-invasive technique based on distortion product otoacoustic emissions. Hearing data were completed with histological analysis of cochleae. The results showed that exposure to styrene alone caused outer hair cell losses in the apical cochlear region, which discriminates low frequencies. In contrast, noise-induced hearing loss was located at half an octave above the central frequency of the spectrum, around 10-12. kHz. Damage due to impulse noise was significantly exacerbated by styrene, and the noise spectrum defined the location of the cochlear trauma. Combined exposure caused greater cell losses than the sum of losses measured with the impulse noise and styrene alone. The fact that the tonotopicity of the styrene-induced damage depends on the associated noise spectrum complicates the diagnosis of styrene-related hearing loss with a tone-frequency audiometric approach. In conclusion, there is not really a frequency specificity of impairments due to styrene.
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