University of Pittsburgh
October 5, 2016

Sound Investment: Pitt, Allergan to Collaborate on Tinnitus Research

Research partnership to discover how the condition persists
Contact:  412-624-4147

PITTSBURGH—Nearly 50 million Americans suffer from tinnitus, an audiological and neurological condition most frequently characterized by ringing in the ears when no actual noise is present, but little is known about the physiology underlying the condition. Allergan, a global pharmaceutical corporation, and the University of Pittsburgh have agreed to a research partnership to help understand the molecular and cellular mechanisms that sustain tinnitus once it has developed.

Thanos Tzounopoulos, professor of and endowed chair in auditory physiology, associate professor of otolaryngology, and member of the auditory research group at Pitt’s School of Medicine, will lead the research.

“The goal of the project collaboration is to discover the cellular and molecular mechanisms or targets underlying the maintenance of tinnitus,” said Tzounopoulos. Tzounopoulos, one of the world’s leading tinnitus researchers, has spent the past eight years working on projects funded by the Department of Defense and American Tinnitus Association that focused on determining the mechanisms that lead to the triggering—rather than maintenance—of tinnitus.

Tzounopoulos’ team found that exposure to excessive noise in mice caused a reduction in a potassium channel activity. In collaboration with Peter Wipf, Distinguished University Professor of Chemistry at Pitt, the team discovered a novel, highly potent and selective potassium channel activator that can prevent the development of tinnitus.

“Due to the structural relationship of this compound to the FDA-approved anticonvulsant drug retigabine, which has considerable side effects, there is a significantly enhanced probability that this activator will gain regulatory approval,” said Tzounopoulos.

The new project with Allergan will use two-photon in vivo imaging in mice to explore the cortical areas and the specific cell types that are different in mice with established tinnitus. Once cell-specific tinnitus-related differences are discovered, the researchers will perform experiments to identify the specific molecular changes that mediate these differences. “We believe that understanding these mechanisms will lead to the development of drugs and therapies for eliminating tinnitus after it becomes permanent,” said Tzounopoulos.

“Pitt’s mission is to make the world better through knowledge, and, to us, that can be accomplished through collaboration, partnership, and engagement—like this opportunity with Allergan,” said Rebecca Bagley, vice chancellor for economic partnerships at Pitt. “We look forward to continue our work with Allergan to benefit the region, the University, the company, and the patients.”