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

  • Amanda M. LauerEmail author
  • Gail Larkin
  • Aikeen Jones
  • Bradford J. May
Research Article


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.


tinnitus distress anxiety depression hearing loss sound exposure salicylate 



Supported by grants from the Tinnitus Research Consortium, Action on Hearing Loss, National Institutes of Health grant DC005211, a gift from Liquing Zeng, and the David M. Rubenstein Fund for Hearing Research. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the funding agencies.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.


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Copyright information

© Association for Research in Otolaryngology 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Amanda M. Lauer
    • 1
    Email author
  • Gail Larkin
    • 1
  • Aikeen Jones
    • 1
  • Bradford J. May
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Otolaryngology-HNS and Center for Hearing and BalanceJohns Hopkins UniversityBaltimoreUSA

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