Age- and size-related changes in the inner ear and hearing ability of the adult zebrafish (Danio rerio)

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Journal of the Association for Research in Otolaryngology

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Fishes, unlike most other vertebrate groups, continue to add sensory hair cells to their ears for much of their lives. However, it is not clear whether the addition ever stops or how the addition of sensory cells impacts hearing ability. In this article, we tested both questions using the zebrafish, Danio rerio. Our results not only have important implications for understanding the consequences of adding sensory receptors, but these results for normal zebrafish also serve as valuable baseline information for future studies of select mutations on the ear and hearing of this species. Our results show that hair cell production continues in uncrowded zebrafish up to 10 months of age (about one-third of a normal life span), but despite this addition there is no change in hearing sensitivity or bandwidth. Therefore, hearing is not related to the number of sensory cells in the ear in juvenile and adult animals. We also show that despite no net addition of hair cells after about 10 months, hair cells are still being produced, but at a lower rate, presumably to replace cells that are dying. Moreover, crowding of zebrafish has a marked impact on the growth of the fish and on the addition of sensory cells to the ear. We also demonstrate that fish size, not age, is a better indicator of developmental state of zebrafish.

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