Measurement of the Auditory Brainstem Response (ABR) to Study Auditory Sensitivity in Mice

James F. Willott1

1 University of South Florida and The Jackson Laboratory, Tampa, Florida
Publication Name:  Current Protocols in Neuroscience
Unit Number:  Unit 8.21B
DOI:  10.1002/0471142301.ns0821bs34
Online Posting Date:  February, 2006
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The ABR is an electroencephalographic response measured with scalp electrodes. It provides a quick, easy, and reliable method for physiological assessment of auditory sensitivity in mice. A series of brief tone pips or clicks is presented to an anesthetized mouse at a high rate of speed; each click evokes waves of neural activity in the brainstem that are computer‐averaged so they are differentiated from non‐auditory background voltages. The intensity of the clicks is reduced in steps until an ABR can no longer be discerned, thereby defining the ABR threshold, which is closely related to the hearing threshold. Key procedural issues are: (1) accurate calibration of the acoustics (what sounds arrive at the mouse's ear), (2) anesthetization of the mouse, (3) setting up the recording electrodes, (4) the protocol for presenting acoustic stimuli and obtaining thresholds, and (5) interpretation of ABR data.

Keywords: mouse; auditory system; brainstem response; otoacoustic emissions; animal psychophysics; deafness; hearing loss

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Table of Contents

  • Alternate Protocol 1: ABR Recording in a Closed System
  • Commentary
  • Literature Cited
  • Figures
  • Tables
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Basic Protocol 1:

  • Mice
  • Appropriate anesthetic (e.g., Avertin or a combination of ketamine·HCl and xylazine i.p.; appendix 4B)
  • Sound‐attenuated, electrically shielded chamber or box for recording (e.g., Industrial Acoustics Corporation)
  • Sound‐calibrating equipment: high‐quality sound measuring devices having high‐frequency microphone and ability to measure impulse stimuli (e.g., Bruel & Kjaer)
  • Clamp and stand
  • Equipment and software for ABR recording and stimulus presentation designed for use with rodents (e.g., Tucker‐Davis Technologies; Intelligent Hearing Systems)
  • Speakers
  • Computer to run recording and stimulus‐generating equipment (see manufacturer requirements)
  • Oscilloscope, optional
  • Large, soft‐grip forceps for handling mice (check with local veterinarians for policy), optional
  • 1‐ml (for Avertin) or 100‐µl (for ketamine/xylazine) syringes
  • 23‐ or 25‐G needles
  • Heating lamp or pad (e.g., Frederick Haer) with appropriate enclosure (e.g., cage)
  • Foam rubber
  • Needle scalp electrodes (thinnest available, e.g., 29‐G;
  • Small, curved forceps to hold scalp while inserting needle electrodes
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Literature Cited

   Henry, K.R. 1979. Differential changes of auditory nerve and brain stem short latency evoked potentials in the laboratory mouse. Electroencephalogr. Clin. Neurophysiol. 46:452‐459.
   Johnson, K.R., Erway, L.C., and Zheng, Q.Y. 2000. Hearing assessment and identification of a gene affecting age‐related hearing loss (accession MPD:14). Mouse Phenome Database Web Site, The Jackson Laboratory, Bar Harbor, Me. (
   Parham, K., Sun, X.‐M., and Kim, D.O. 2001. Noninvasive assessment of auditory function: Distortion product otoacoustic emissions and auditory brainstem responses. In Handbook of Mouse Auditory Research: From Behavior to Molecular Biology (J.F. Willott, ed.) pp. 37‐58. CRC Press, Boca Raton, Fla.
   Shaw, N.A. 1986. The effect of pentobarbital on the auditory evoked response in the brainstem of the rat. Neuropharmacology 25:63‐69.
   Williston, J.S. and Jewett, D.L. 1982. The Q10 of auditory brain stem responses in rats under hypothermia. Audiology 21:457‐465.
   Willott, J.F. 1986. Effects of aging, hearing loss, and anatomical location on thresholds of inferior colliculus neurons in C57BL/6 and CBA mice. J. Neurophysiol. 56:391‐408.
   Willott, J.F. and Turner, J.G. 1999. Prolonged exposure to an augmented acoustic environment ameliorates age‐related auditory changes in C57BL/6J and DBA/2J mice. Hear. Res. 135:78‐88.
Key References
   Parham et al., 2001. See above.
  Provides a thorough discussion of the ABR in mice.
   Willott, J.F. (ed.). 1983. The Auditory Psychobiology of the Mouse. Charles C. Thomas Publishers, Springfield, Ill.
   Willott, J.F. (ed.). 2001. Handbook of Mouse Auditory Research: From Behavior to Molecular Biology. CRC Press, Boca Raton, Fla.
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