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J Assoc Res Otolaryngol. 2001 Mar;2(1):54-64.

Assessing tinnitus and prospective tinnitus therapeutics using a psychophysical animal model.

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  • 1Department of Surgery, Southern Illinois University School of Medicine, Springfield 62794, USA. cbauer@siumed.edu


Subjective tinnitus is a common and often debilitating disorder that is difficult to study because it is a perceptual state without an objective stimulus correlate. Studying tinnitus in humans is further complicated by the heterogeneity of tinnitus quality, severity, and associated hearing loss. As a consequence, the pathophysiology of tinnitus is poorly understood and treatments are often unsuccessful. In the present study, an animal psychophysical model was developed to reflect several features of tinnitus observed in humans. Chronic tinnitus was induced in rats by a single intense unilateral exposure to noise. The tinnitus was measured using a psychophysical procedure, which required the animals to discriminate between auditory test stimuli consisting of tones, noise, and 0 dB. Tinnitus was indicated by a frequency-specific shift in discrimination functions with respect to control subjects not exposed to noise. The psychophysical consequences of the noise exposure were best explained by a tinnitus hypothesis and could not be explained easily by other consequences of noise exposure such as hearing loss. The qualitative features of the tinnitus were determined and related to the duration of noise exposure and the associated cochlear trauma. The tinnitus was found to persist and intensify over 17 months of testing. Finally, the tinnitus was reversibly attenuated by treatment with gabapentin, a GABA agonist. It was concluded that this model reflected several features of human tinnitus, such as its tonality and persistence, and could be useful as a screen for potential therapeutics as well as a tool to help unravel the pathophysiology of the disorder of phantom auditory perception.

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