This study describes two experiments that were conducted in search for a behavioral paradigm to test for tinnitus in guinea pigs. Conditioning paradigms are available to determine the presence of tinnitus in animals and are based on the assumption that tinnitus impairs their ability to detect silent intervals in continuous noise. Guinea pigs have not been subjected to these paradigms yet, therefore we investigated whether guinea pigs could be conditioned in the two-way shuttle box paradigm to respond to silent intervals in noise. Even though guinea pigs could be trained relatively easy to respond to the presence of a noise interval, training guinea pigs to silent intervals in noise was unsuccessful. Instead, it appeared that they became immobile when the continuous stimulus was suddenly stopped. This was confirmed by the next experiment, in which we subjected guinea pigs to alternating intervals of noise and silence with a random duration between 30 – 120 s. Indeed, guinea pigs were significantly longer immobile during silence compared to during noise. By interpreting immobility as a signature of perceiving silence, we hypothesized that the presence of tinnitus would reduce immobility in silence. Therefore, we unilaterally exposed one group of guinea pigs to an 11-kHz tone of 124 dB SPL for 1 hour. A subset of the exposed animals was significantly more active in silence, but also more active in noise, as compared to the control group. The increased mobility during silent intervals might represent tinnitus. However, the increased mobility in noise of this group implies that the observed behavior could have derived from e.g. an overall increase in activity. Therefore, conducting validation experiments is very important before implementing this method as a new screening tool for tinnitus. Follow-up experiments are discussed to further elucidate the origin of the increased mobility in both silence and noise
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