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J Assoc Res Otolaryngol. 2018 Feb;19(1):67-81. doi: 10.1007/s10162-017-0642-8. Epub 2017 Oct 18.

Behavioral Animal Model of the Emotional Response to Tinnitus and Hearing Loss.

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Department of Otolaryngology-HNS and Center for Hearing and Balance, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD, 21205, USA.
Department of Otolaryngology-HNS and Center for Hearing and Balance, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD, 21205, USA.


Increased prevalence of emotional distress is associated with tinnitus and hearing loss. The underlying mechanisms of the negative emotional response to tinnitus and hearing loss remain poorly understood, and it is challenging to disentangle the emotional consequences of hearing loss from those specific to tinnitus in listeners experiencing both. We addressed these questions in laboratory rats using three common rodent anxiety screening assays: elevated plus maze, open field test, and social interaction test. Open arm activity in the elevated plus maze decreased substantially after one trial in controls, indicating its limited utility for comparing pre- and post-treatment behavior. Open field exploration and social interaction behavior were consistent across multiple sessions in control animals. Individual sound-exposed and salicylate-treated rats showed a range of phenotypes in the open field, including reduced entries into the center in some subjects and reduced locomotion overall. In rats screened for tinnitus, less locomotion was associated with higher tinnitus scores. In salicylate-treated animals, locomotion was correlated with age. Sound-exposed and salicylate-treated rats also showed reduced social interaction. These results suggest that open field exploratory activity is a selective measure for identifying tinnitus distress in individual animals, whereas social interaction reflects the general effects of hearing loss. This animal model will facilitate future studies of the structural and functional changes in the brain pathways underlying emotional distress associated with hearing dysfunction, as well as development of novel interventions to ameliorate or prevent negative emotional responses.


anxiety; depression; distress; hearing loss; salicylate; sound exposure; tinnitus

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