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.
The researchers found that mice that were treated with retigabine immediately after noise exposure did not develop tinnitus. Consistent with previous studies, 50 percent of noise-exposed mice that were not treated with the drug exhibited behavioral signs of the condition.
"This is an important finding that links the biophysical properties of a potassium channel with the perception of a phantom sound," Dr. Tzounopoulos said. "Tinnitus is a channelopathy, and these KCNQ channels represent a novel target for developing drugs that block the induction of tinnitus in humans."
The KCNQ family is comprised of five different subunits, four of which are sensitive to retigabine. He and his collaborators aim to develop a drug that is specific for the two KCNQ subunits involved in tinnitus to minimize the potential for side effects.
"Such a medication could be a very helpful preventive strategy for soldiers and other people who work in situations where exposure to very loud noise is likely," Dr. Tzounopoulos said. "It might also be useful for other conditions of phantom perceptions, such as pain in a limb
|Contact: Anita Srikameswaran|
University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences