School of Medical Sciences

Auditory and Vestibular Translational Neuroscience Cluster

Principal investigators

Research interests

Our research interest is in auditory and vestibular neuroscience, focusing on the mechanisms, diagnosis and treatment of inner ear diseases, and clinical and population health approaches to the prevention and alleviation of hearing and vestibular impairment in the community. Our current programme of research incorporates a series of projects that directly investigate the protective role of purinergic signalling pathways (adenosine receptors in particular) against noise- and drug-induced cochlear injury and prevention of age-related cochlear degeneration. Our projects also focus on the role of oxidative stress, inflammation and glutamate excitotoxicity in the development of cochlear neuropathy and sensorineural hearing loss. We are developing MR imaging of the cochlea in both animals and humans and investigating novel drug delivery approaches to the inner ear. Our research portfolio also includes the relationship between hearing loss and cognitive decline in animal models of Alzheimer’s disease, auditory processing in people with mild cognitive decline and clinical studies of the vestibular function.

Our Population Health research projects are around the epidemiology of noise-induced hearing loss in the New Zealand community, development of targeted interventions to reduce noise-induced hearing loss in industrial and leisure environments and the development of hearing services in developing countries, with a focus on Pacific Island nations. These studies form a multidisciplinary programme of research to prevent, treat and reduce hearing impairment.

Research projects

  1. Developing large animal models for auditory research and interventions
  2. Mapping signalling pathways in human inner ear tissues
  3. Therapeutic interventions to reduce auditory and cognitive deficits in ageing mice
  4. Drug delivery to the inner ear
  5. Cochlear purinergic adaptation as a biomarker for vulnerability to noise-induced hearing loss
  6. The role of adenosine receptors in regeneration of afferent synapses in the cochlea after excitotoxic injury
  7. Cochlear and blood biomarkers of cochlear inflammation
  8. Establishing the gut-inner ear axis in health and disease
  9. Finding treatments for cochlear neuropathy and associated hearing impairment
  10. Relationship between head and eye movements
  11. Preservation of residual hearing for cochlear implantation

Active research collaborations

  • Associate Professor Philip Bird (CDHB)
  • Dr Michel Neeff (ADHB)
  • Professor Paul Smith (University of Otago)
  • Associate Professor Yiwen Zheng (University of Otago)
  • Dr Jaydee Cabral (University of Otago)
  • Professor Gary Housley (UNSW, Sydney, Australia)
  • Dr Mark Oliver (Liggin’s Research Farm, University of Auckland)

Facilities, technology and special equipment

  • Anatomy and histology of the inner ear
  • Auditory Brainstem Responses (ABR)
  • Molecular and cellular biology
  • MRI and microCT Imaging of the cochlea
  • Organotypic tissue cultures of the inner ear
  • Vestibular-evoked myogenic potentials
  • The Ear Tissue Bank

Research publications

  1. Han S, Suzuki-Kerr H, Suwantika M, Telang RS, Gerneke DA, Anekal PV, Bird P, Vlajkovic SM, Thorne PR. Characterization of the sheep round window membrane. Journal of the Association for Research in Otolaryngology, 22(1), 1-17. 2020. doi: 10.1007/s10162-020-00778-9.
  2. Fok C, Bogosanovic M, Pandya M, Telang R, Thorne PR, Vlajkovic SM. Regulator of G Protein Signalling 4 (RGS4) as a novel target for the treatment of sensorineural hearing loss. Int J Mol Sci. 22(1):3, 2020. doi: 10.3390/ijms22010003.
  3. Taylor RL, Magnussen JS, Kwok B, Young AS, Ihtijarevic B, Argaet EC, Reid N, Rivas C, Pogson JM, Rosengren SM, Halmagyi GM, Welgampola MS. Bone-Conducted oVEMP Latency Delays Assist in the Differential Diagnosis of Large Air-Conducted oVEMP Amplitudes. Front Neurol.11:580184. 2020, doi:10.3389/fneur.2020.580184
  4. Taylor RL, Welgampola MS, Nham B, Rosengren SM. Vestibular-Evoked Myogenic Potential Testing in Vestibular Localization and Diagnosis. Semin Neurol. 2020 40(1):18-32, 2020 doi: 10.1055/s-0039-3402068.
  5. Han BRX, Lin SCY, Espinosa K, Thorne PR, Vlajkovic SM. (2019) Inhibition of the adenosine A2A receptor mitigates excitotoxic injury in organotypic tissue cultures of the rat cochlea. Cells 2019, 8(8), 877, 2019.
  6. Lin SCY, Thorne PR, Housley GD, Vlajkovic SM. (2019) Purinergic signalling and aminoglycoside ototoxicity: the opposing roles of P1 (adenosine) and P2 (ATP) receptors on cochlear hair cell survival. Front. Cell. Neurosci. 13:207. doi: 10.3389/fncel.2019.00207
  7. Han BRX, Thorne PR, Vlajkovic SM. (2019) The link between hidden hearing loss and cognitive decline. J Neurosci. Cogn Studies 3(1), Article ID 1013.
  8. Thorne PR, Holt, E, Nosa V, Oh C, Lopati S, Pifeleti S, Maslin M, McCool J, and Kafoa B. (2019) Promoting ear and hearing care in the Pacific region. Bulletin of the World Health Organisation 97(10):719-721.
  9. Vlajkovic SM, Ambepitiya K, Barclay M, Boison D, Housley GD, Thorne PR. (2017). Adenosine receptors regulate susceptibility to noise-induced neural injury in the mouse cochlea and hearing loss. Hear. Res. 345:43-51.
  10. Tan WJ, Thorne PR, Vlajkovic SM (2016). Characterisation of cochlear inflammation in mice following acute and chronic noise exposure. Histochem. Cell Biol. 146(2):219-230.
  11. Vlajkovic SM, Chang H, Paek SY, Chi HH-T, Sreebhavan S, Telang R, Tingle MD, Housley GD, Thorne PR. (2014). Adenosine amine congener as a cochlear rescue agent. BioMed Research International doi: 10.1155/2014/841489
  12. Floc'h JL, Tan W, Telang RS, Vlajkovic SM, Nuttall A, Rooney WD, Pontré B, Thorne PR. (2014). Markers of cochlear inflammation using MRI. J. Magn. Reson. Imaging, 39:150-161.
  13. Housley GD, Morton-Jones R, Vlajkovic SM, Telang RS, Paramananthasivam V, Tadros SF, Wong ACY, Froud KE, Cederholm JM, Sivakumaran Y, Snguanwongchai P, Khakh BS, Cockayne DA, Thorne PR, Ryan AF. (2013). ATP-gated ion channels mediate adaptation to elevated sound levels. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA. 110(18):7494-7499.