Isoflurane is a volatile inhaled anaesthetic widely used in animal research, with particular utility for hearing research. Isoflurane has been shown to blunt hearing sensitivity compared with the awake state, but little is known about how isoflurane compares with other anaesthetics with regard to hair cell transduction and auditory neurotransmission. The current study was undertaken in C57Bl/6J and C129/SvEv strains of mice to determine whether isoflurane anaesthesia affects hearing function relative to ketamine-based anaesthesia. Cochlear function and central auditory transmission were assessed using auditory brainstem response (ABR) and distortion product otoacoustic emission (DPOAE), comparing thresholds and input/output functions over time, for isoflurane vs. ketamine/xylazine/acepromazine anaesthesia. ABR thresholds at the most sensitive region of hearing (16 kHz) were initially higher under isoflurane anaesthesia. This reduced hearing sensitivity worsened over the 1 h study period, and also became evident with broadband click stimulus. Ketamine anaesthesia provided stable ABR thresholds. Although the growth functions were unchanged over time for both anaesthetics, the slopes under isoflurane anaesthesia were significantly less. Cubic (2f(1)-f(2)) DPOAE thresholds and growth functions were initially similar for both anaesthetics. After 60 min, DPOAE thresholds increased for both groups, but this effect was significantly greater with ketamine anaesthesia. The isoflurane-mediated increase in ABR thresholds over time is attributable to action on cochlear nerve activation, evident as a right-shift in the P1-N1 input/output function compared to K/X/A. The ketamine-based anaesthetic produced stable ABR thresholds and gain over time, despite a right-shift in the outer hair cell - mediated DPOAE input/output function.
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