Researchers identify mechanism that regulates acoustic habituation

April 11, 2017, University of Western Ontario

Most people will startle when they hear an unexpected loud sound. The second time they hear the noise, they'll startle significantly less; by the third time, they'll barely startle at all. This ability is called acoustic habituation, and new Western-led research has identified the underlying molecular mechanism that controls this capability. The research opens the door to treatments, especially for people who have autism spectrum disorder or schizophrenia and who experience disruptions in this ability.

Susanne Schmid, PhD, associate professor at Western's Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, and principal investigator on the study explains that acoustic is a common form of sensory filtering, which refers to the brain's ability to block out extraneous sounds, feelings or visual information so that we are able to focus on what's most important in our surroundings. Disruption in was added as a diagnostic marker for only in the most recent version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM5).

Using electrophysiology and pharmacological tools, the research has shown that a potassium channel, specifically the BK channel, in the central nervous system can be regulated with drugs to increase or decrease these disruptions in animal models.

"By doing this we are better able to understand what's going wrong in people that do not habituate," said Schmid. "It also means we might be able to improve habituation by targeting this mechanism and thereby improve their sensory filtering."

Schmid says enhancing habituation and sensory filtering in spectrum disorder and schizophrenia might have beneficial effects not only on hyper- and hyposensitivity, but also on cognitive function.

The research was published in The Journal of Neuroscience and was funded by an operating grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Ontario Mental Health Foundation.

Explore further: Sorting out risk genes for brain development disorders

More information: Tariq Zaman et al, BK Channels Mediate Synaptic Plasticity Underlying Habituation in Rats, The Journal of Neuroscience (2017). DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3699-16.2017

Related Stories

Sorting out risk genes for brain development disorders

February 23, 2017
Gene discovery research is uncovering new information about similarities and differences underlying various neurodevelopmental disorders.

Genomewide screen of learning in zebrafish identifies enzyme important in neural circuit

March 23, 2015
Researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania describe the first set of genes important in learning in a zebrafish model in the journal Neuron this week. "Using an in-depth analysis of one ...

Scientists pinpoint sensory links between autism and synesthesia

March 7, 2017
Concrete links between the symptoms of autism and synaesthesia have been discovered and clarified for the first time, according to new research by psychologists at the University of Sussex.

Autism-linked protein crucial for feeling pain

December 1, 2016
Sensory problems are common to autism spectrum disorders. Some individuals with autism may injure themselves repetitively—for example, pulling their hair or banging their heads—because they're less sensitive to pain than ...

Groundbreaking model explains how the brain learns to ignore familiar stimuli

June 18, 2014
A neuroscientist from Trinity College Dublin has proposed a new, ground-breaking explanation for the fundamental process of 'habituation', which has never been completely understood by neuroscientists.

Scientists find molecular trigger of schizophrenia-like behaviors and brain changes

April 7, 2015
Scientists at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) have identified a molecule in the brain that triggers schizophrenia-like behaviors, brain changes and global gene expression in an animal model. The research gives scientists ...

Recommended for you

Scientists develop new method that uses light to manage neuropathic pain in mice

April 24, 2018
For patients with neuropathic pain, a chronic condition affecting 7 to 8 percent of the European population, extreme pain and sensitivity are a daily reality. There is currently no effective treatment. Scientists from EMBL ...

Animal cyborg—behavioral control by activating 'toy craving' circuit

April 24, 2018
Children love to get toys from parents as presents. This craving for objects also underlies object hoarding disorders and shopping addiction. However, the biological causes of object pursuit have remained unknown. Part of ...

Pediatric obesity, depression connected in the brain, study finds

April 23, 2018
Early-life obesity and depression may be driven by shared abnormalities in brain regions that process rewards, according to researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine.

What learning looks like in the brain

April 23, 2018
When we learn the connections between neurons strengthen. Addiction or other neurological diseases are linked to abnormally strong connections. But what does learning look like on the cellular and molecular level? How do ...

Watch your step: How vision leads locomotion

April 23, 2018
Using new technologies to track how vision guides foot placement, researchers at The University of Texas at Austin come one step closer in determining what is going on in the brain while we walk, paving the way for better ...

Multiple sclerosis may be linked to sheep disease toxin

April 23, 2018
Exposure to a toxin primarily found in sheep could be linked to the development of multiple sclerosis (MS) in humans, new research suggests.Carried out by the University of Exeter and MS Sciences Ltd., the study has found ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.