Tinnitus, the perception of sound in the absence of an external stimulus, is a particularly challenging condition to demonstrate in animals. In any animal model, objective confirmation of tinnitus is essential before we can study the neural changes that produce it. A gap detection method, based on prepulse inhibition of the whole-body startle reflex, is often used as a behavioural test for tinnitus in rodents. However, in the guinea pig the whole-body startle reflex is subject to rapid habituation and hence is not an ideal behavioural measure. By contrast, in this species the Preyer or pinna reflex is a very reliable indicator of the startle response and is much less subject to habituation. We have developed a novel adaptation of the gap detection paradigm, which uses the Preyer reflex to measure the startle response, rather than whole-body movement. Using this method, we have demonstrated changes in gap detection, in guinea pigs where tinnitus had been induced by the administration of a high dose of salicylate. Our data indicate that the Preyer reflex gap detection method is a reliable test for tinnitus in guinea pigs.
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