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Manipulation of BK channel expression is sufficient to alter auditory hair cell thresholds in larval zebrafish
Kevin N. Rohmann, Joel A. Tripp, Rachel M. Genova, Andrew H. Bass


Non-mammalian vertebrates rely on electrical resonance for frequency tuning in auditory hair cells. A key component of the resonance exhibited by these cells is an outward calcium-activated potassium current which flows through large-conductance calcium activated potassium (BK) channels. Previous work in midshipman fish (Porichthys notatus) has shown that BK expression correlates with seasonal changes in hearing sensitivity and that pharmacologically blocking these channels replicates the natural decreases in sensitivity during the winter non-reproductive season. To test the hypothesis that reducing BK channel function is sufficient to change auditory thresholds in fish, morpholino oligos were used in larval zebrafish (Danio rerio) to alter expression of slo1a and slo1b, duplicate genes coding for the pore-forming α-subunits of BK channels. Following morpholino injection, microphonic potentials were recorded from the inner ear of larvae. Quantitative real-time PCR was then used to determine the morpholino effect on slo1a and slo1b expression in these same fish. Knockdown of either slo1a or slo1b resulted in disrupted gene expression and increased auditory thresholds across the same range of frequencies of natural auditory plasticity observed in midshipman. We conclude that interference with the normal expression of individual slo1 genes is sufficient to increase auditory thresholds in zebrafish larvae and that changes in BK channel expression are a direct mechanism for regulation of peripheral hearing sensitivity among fishes.