- Published on 07 August 2013
An epilepsy drug used in an animal model is showing promising results in preventing tinnitus from developing after exposure to loud noise. The findings reveal, for the first time, the reason tinnitus occurs.
Reseachers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine focused on an area of the brain that is home to an important auditory center called the dorsal cochlear nucleus (DCN). From previous research in a mouse model, they knew that tinnitus is associated with hyperactivity of DCN cells — they fire impulses even when there is no actual sound to perceive. For the new experiments, they took a close look at the biophysical properties of tiny channels, called KCNQ channels, through which potassium ions travel in and out of the cell.
"We found that mice with tinnitus have hyperactive DCN cells because of a reduction in KCNQ potassium channel activity," said lead investigator Thanos Tzounopoulos. "These KCNQ channels act as effective "brakes" that reduce excitability or activity of neuronal cells."
In the model, sedated mice are exposed in one ear to a 116-decibel sound, about the loudness of an ambulance siren, for 45 minutes, which was shown in previous work to lead to the development of tinnitus in 50 percent of exposed mice. Dr. Tzounopoulos and his team tested whether an FDA-approved epilepsy drug called retigabine, which specifically enhances KCNQ channel activity, could prevent the development of tinnitus. Thirty minutes into the noise exposure and twice daily for the next five days, half of the exposed group was given injections of retigabine.
Seven days after noise exposure, the team determined whether the mice had developed tinnitus by conducting startle experiments, in which a continuous, 70 dB tone is played for a period, then stopped briefly and then resumed before being interrupted with a much louder pulse. Mice with normal hearing perceive the gap in sounds and are aware something had changed, so they are less startled by the loud pulse than mice with tinnitus, which hear phantom noise that masks the moment of silence in between the background tones.
Source: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, May 2013
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