Induction of enhanced acoustic startle response by noise exposure: dependence on exposure conditions and testing parameters and possible relevance to hyperacusis

PLoS One. 2014 Oct 31;9(10):e111747. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0111747. eCollection 2014.


There has been a recent surge of interest in the development of animal models of hyperacusis, a condition in which tolerance to sounds of moderate and high intensities is diminished. The reasons for this decreased tolerance are likely multifactorial, but some major factors that contribute to hyperacusis are increased loudness perception and heightened sensitivity and/or responsiveness to sound. Increased sound sensitivity is a symptom that sometimes develops in human subjects after acoustic insult and has recently been demonstrated in animals as evidenced by enhancement of the acoustic startle reflex following acoustic over-exposure. However, different laboratories have obtained conflicting results in this regard, with some studies reporting enhanced startle, others reporting weakened startle, and still others reporting little, if any, change in the amplitude of the acoustic startle reflex following noise exposure. In an effort to gain insight into these discrepancies, we conducted measures of acoustic startle responses (ASR) in animals exposed to different levels of sound, and repeated such measures on consecutive days using a range of different startle stimuli. Since many studies combine measures of acoustic startle with measures of gap detection, we also tested ASR in two different acoustic contexts, one in which the startle amplitudes were tested in isolation, the other in which startle amplitudes were measured in the context of the gap detection test. The results reveal that the emergence of chronic hyperacusis-like enhancements of startle following noise exposure is highly reproducible but is dependent on the post-exposure thresholds, the time when the measures are performed and the context in which the ASR measures are obtained. These findings could explain many of the discrepancies that exist across studies and suggest guidelines for inducing in animals enhancements of the startle reflex that may be related to hyperacusis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation*
  • Animals
  • Auditory Threshold
  • Body Weight
  • Cricetinae
  • Loudness Perception / physiology*
  • Noise*
  • Reflex, Startle / physiology*