The availability of genetic information, transgenic and knock-out animals make the mouse a primary model in biomedical research. Aminoglycoside ototoxicity, however, has rarely been studied in mature mice because they are considered highly resistant to the drugs. This study presents models for kanamycin ototoxicity in adult CBA/J, C57BL/6 and BALB/c mouse strains and a comparison to Sprague-Dawley rats. Five-week-old mice were injected subcutaneously twice daily with 400-900 mg kanamycin base/kg body weight for 15 days. Kanamycin induced dose-dependent auditory threshold shifts of up to 70 dB at 24 kHz as measured by auditory brain stem-evoked responses. Vestibular function was also affected in all strains. The functional deficits were accompanied by hair cell loss in both cochlear and vestibular neurosensory epithelia. Concomitant administration of the antioxidant 2,3-dihydroxybenzoate significantly attenuated the kanamycin-induced threshold shifts. In adult male Sprague-Dawley rats, doses of 1 x 500 mg or 2 x 300 mg kanamycin base/kg body weight/day x 14 days induced threshold shifts of approximately 50 dB at 20 kHz. These were accompanied by loss of outer hair cells. The order of susceptibility, BALB>CBA>C57, was not due to differences in the pharmacokinetics of kanamycin. It also did not correlate with the presence of Ahl/Ahl2 genes which predispose C57 and BALB strains, respectively, to accelerated age-related hearing loss. Pigmentation, however, paralleled this rank order suggesting an influence of melanin on cochlear antioxidant status.