Accumulating evidence suggests a role for inhibitory neurotransmitter dysfunction in the pathology of tinnitus. Opposing hypotheses proposed either a pathologic decrease or increase of GABAergic inhibition in medial geniculate body (MGB). In thalamus, GABA mediates fast synaptic inhibition via synaptic GABAA receptors (GABAARs) and persistent tonic inhibition via high-affinity extrasynaptic GABAARs. Given that extrasynaptic GABAARs control the firing mode of thalamocortical neurons, we examined tonic GABAAR currents in MGB neurons in vitro, using the following three groups of adult rats: unexposed control (Ctrl); sound exposed with behavioral evidence of tinnitus (Tin); and sound exposed with no behavioral evidence of tinnitus (Non-T). Tonic GABAAR currents were evoked using the selective agonist gaboxadol. Months after a tinnitus-inducing sound exposure, gaboxadol-evoked tonic GABAAR currents showed significant tinnitus-related increases contralateral to the sound exposure. In situ hybridization studies found increased mRNA levels for GABAAR δ-subunits contralateral to the sound exposure. Tin rats showed significant increases in the number of spikes per burst evoked using suprathreshold-injected current steps. In summary, we found little evidence of tinnitus-related decreases in GABAergic neurotransmission. Tinnitus and chronic pain may reflect thalamocortical dysrhythmia, which results from abnormal theta-range resonant interactions between thalamus and cortex, due to neuronal hyperpolarization and the initiation of low-threshold calcium spike bursts (Walton and Llinás, 2010). In agreement with this hypothesis, we found tinnitus-related increases in tonic extrasynaptic GABAAR currents, in action potentials/evoked bursts, and in GABAAR δ-subunit gene expression. These tinnitus-related changes in GABAergic function may be markers for tinnitus pathology in the MGB.
Keywords: GABA; GABAAR; auditory; thalamus; tinnitus.
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