Identification of the causal effects of specific proteins on recurrent and partially reversible hearing loss has been difficult because of the lack of an animal model that provides reversible gene knockdown. We have developed the transgenic mouse line Actin-tTS::Nkcc1tetO/tetO for manipulatable expression of the cochlear K+ circulation protein, NKCC1. Nkcc1 transcription was blocked by the binding of a tetracycline-dependent transcriptional silencer to the tetracycline operator sequences inserted upstream of the Nkcc1 translation initiation site. Administration of the tetracycline derivative doxycycline reversibly regulated Nkcc1 knockdown. Progeny from pregnant/lactating mothers fed doxycycline-free chow from embryonic day 0 showed strong suppression of Nkcc1 expression (∼90% downregulation) and Nkcc1 null phenotypes at postnatal day 35 (P35). P35 transgenic mice from mothers fed doxycycline-free chow starting at P0 (delivery) showed weaker suppression of Nkcc1 expression (∼70% downregulation) and less hearing loss with mild cochlear structural changes. Treatment of these mice at P35 with doxycycline for 2 weeks reactivated Nkcc1 transcription to control levels and improved hearing level at high frequency; i.e., these doxycycline-treated mice exhibited partially reversible hearing loss. Thus, development of the Actin-tTS::Nkcc1tetO/tetO transgenic mouse line provides a mouse model for the study of variable hearing loss through reversible knockdown of Nkcc1.
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