Sensorineural hearing loss related to autoimmune disease is a well- recognized condition, although the exact pathophysiologic mechanisms remain unclear. One current theory postulates immune complex-induced interference with blood-labyrinth barrier integrity in the stria vascularis. The C3H/lpr autoimmune mouse was chosen to study the permeability of capillaries in the stria vascularis because this mouse model has demonstrated abnormalities of the stria vascularis and shifts in the auditory brain stem response threshold durIng active disease. C3H/lpr mice with active disease were compared with younger mice without disease, as well as age-matched C3H/HeJ control mice. The mice were injected with the tracer ferritin and examined by transmission electron microscopy to evaluate the integrity of the capillary tight junctions in the stria vascularis. Four of five mice with active disease were noted to have extensive leakage of ferritin into the perivascular tissues. Neither the young, disease-free autoimmune mice nor the nonautoimmune control mice demonstrated vessel leakage. Thickening of the basement membrane was also noted in the diseased animals. The results imply that active disease leads to a breakdown in the blood-endolymph barrier, which could underlie the hearing loss accompanying autoimmune and other immune diseases.
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