Endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress is a common stress factor during the aging process. Heat shock factor 1 (HSF1) plays a critical role in ER stress; however, its exact function in age-related hearing loss (ARHL) has not been fully elucidated. The purpose of the present study was to identify the role of HSF1 in ARHL. In this study, we demonstrated that the loss of inner and outer hair cells and their supporting cells was predominant in the high-frequency region (basal turn, 32 kHz) in ARHL cochleae. In the aging cochlea, levels of the ER stress marker proteins p-eIF2α and CHOP increased as HSF1 protein levels decreased. The levels of various heat shock proteins (HSPs) also decreased, including HSP70 and HSP40, which were markedly downregulated, and the expression levels of Bax and cleaved caspase-3 apoptosis-related proteins were increased. However, HSF1 overexpression showed significant hearing protection effects in the high-frequency region (basal turn, 32 kHz) by decreasing CHOP and cleaved caspase-3 and increasing the HSP40 and HSP70 proteins. These findings were confirmed by HSF1 functional studies using an auditory cell model. Therefore, we propose that HSF1 can function as a mediator to prevent ARHL by decreasing ER stress-dependent apoptosis in the aging cochlea.
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