Thanos Tzounopoulos, PhD
Auditory Physiology Endowed Chair
Associate Professor of Otolaryngology and Neurobiology
Biomedical Science Tower 3
3501 Fifth Avenue Room 3017
Pittsburgh, PA 15261
We are always looking for highly committed students and postdocs. If you are interested, please email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
After earning my undergraduate degree in Biology from the University of Athens in Greece, I came to the US as a Fulbright Scholar. I was awarded my Ph.D. in Molecular and Medical Genetics at Oregon Health and Science University in 1997. I then completed my postdoctoral research at the University of California at San Francisco; Vollum Institute and at the Oregon Hearing Research Center. I was appointed as Assistant Professor at the Chicago Medical School in May 2006 and moved to University of Pittsburgh in November 2008. I was promoted to Associate Professor in 2012. In 2015, I was appointed to the Auditory Physiology Endowed Chair.
Mechanisms of synaptic plasticity have traditionally been ascribed to higher-order sensory processing areas such as the cortex, whereas early sensory processing centers have been considered largely hard-wired. However, recent results from our lab and human studies have revealed remarkable evidence for cellular and behavioral mechanisms for learning and memory in early stages of sensory processing. We are investigating the cellular mechanisms underlying synaptic and intrinsic plasticity in sensory systems and in their role for normal and pathological sensory processing. Our current studies are focusing on the role of zinc as a novel neurotransmitter in the brain. In collaboration with chemist Dr. Lippard of MIT, a pioneer in the development of zinc chelators and sensors, we are currently assessing the dynamics and the functional role of synaptically-released zinc in the brain with novel tools.
A second area of our research focuses on tinnitus and its underlying cellular and molecular mechanisms. Based on our recent findings on the molecular mechanisms underlying the induction of tinnitus and in collaboration with the medicinal chemist Dr. Peter Wipf of the University of Pittsburgh, we are developing and testing novel specific Kv7.2/3 (KCNQ2/3) activators for preventing the triggering of tinnitus. Moreover, our current tinnitus-related studies are aimed towards understanding the mechanisms that underlie the resilience to tinnitus, as well maintenance of tinnitus.
A third area of our research, in collaboration with Dr. Sepherd of Nortwestern University, focuses on the circuit, synaptic and intrinsic mechanisms via which cortical (A1) projection neurons mediate top-down modulation of auditory processing in normal and disease states.
Selected Recent Publications (last 5 years)
Li S., Kalappa B.I, and Tzounopoulos T (2015) Noise-Induced Plasticity of KCNQ2/3 and HCN Channels Underlies Vulnerability and Resilience to Tinnitus. Elife 2015;10.7554/eLife.07242.
Anderson C.T, Radford R.J, Zatsrow M.L, Zhang D.Y, Apfel U, Lippard S.J, and Tzounopoulos T (2015). Modulation of Extrasynaptic NMDA Receptors by Synaptic and Tonic Zinc. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA (PNAS), 2015 May 6. pii: 201503348.
Bopanna I. Kalappa, Heun Soh, Kevin Duignan, Takeru Furuya, Scott Edwards, Anastassios V.Tzingounis and Thanos Tzounopoulos (2015). Potent KCNQ2/3-specific channel activator suppresses in vivo epileptic activity and prevents the development of tinnitus. Journal of Neuroscience, 2015 Jun 10;35(23):8829-42.
Ankur Joshi, Jason Middleton, Charles T. Anderson, Katharine Borges, Benjamin Suter, Gordon M. G. Shepherd and Thanos Tzounopoulos (2015). Cell-specific, activity-dependent fractionation of layer 2/3→5B excitatory signaling in mouse auditory cortex. Journal of Neuroscience, 2015 Feb 18;35(7):3112-23.
Tamara Perez-Rosello, Charles T. Anderson, Cindy Ling, Thanos Tzounopoulos (2015). Tonic Non-Vesicular Zinc Inhibits Spontaneous Neuronal Firing in Dorsal Cochlear Nucleus Principal Neurons by Enhancing Tonic Glycinergic Inhibition. Neurobiology of Disorder, 2015 Mar 18. pii: S0969-9961(15)00084-4. doi: 10.1016/j.nbd.2015.03.012. [Epub ahead of print].
Li S., Choi V., and Tzounopoulos T (2013). Pathogenic Plasticity of Kv7.2/3 Channel Activity is Essential for the Induction of Tinnitus. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA (PNAS), 2013 June 11; 110 (24) 9980-9985.
Perez-Rosello T., Anderson C., Schopfer F., Zhao Y., Gilad D., Salvatore S., Freeman B., Hershfinkel M., Aizenman E., and Thanos Tzounopoulos (2013). Synaptically Released Zn2+ Inhibits Neurotransmitter Release by Promoting Endocannabinoid Synthesis. Journal of Neuroscience, 2013 May 29;33(22):9259-72).
Leao RM, Li S, Doiron B, Tzounopoulos T (2012). Diverse levels of an inwardly rectifying potassium conductance generate heterogeneous neuronal behavior in a population of dorsal cochlear nucleus pyramidal neurons. Journal of Neurophysiology, 2012 Jun;107(11):3008-19.
Jason W. Middleton,Taro Kiritani, Courtney Pedersen, Jeremy Turner, Gordon M. G. Shepherd, Thanos Tzounopoulos (2011). Mice with Behavioral Evidence of Tinnitus Exhibit Dorsal Cochlear Nucleus Hyperactivity Due to Decreased GABAergic Inhibition. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA (PNAS), 2011 May 3;108(18):7601-6.
Yanjun Zhao and Thanos Tzounopoulos (2011). Physiological Activation of Cholinergic Inputs Controls Associative Synaptic Plasticity via Modulation of Endocannabinoid Signaling. Journal of Neuroscience, 2011 Mar 2;31(9):3158-68
News and Views Articles on Our Work
UPMC/University of Pittsburgh (2015): Pitt Team Identifies Cause of Resilience to Tinnitus, Drugs That Can Reduce Chance of Developing the Debilitating Condition
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (2015): University of Pittsburgh finds zinc to be important in brain signaling
Science and Technology Daily (2015): New Drug to Quiet Brain, Relieving Epilepsy and Tinnitus
SciFluor (2015): Novel KCNQ2/3 activator
The Science Business eXchange(2013): Potassium channel Kv7.2 (KCNQ2); KCNQ3
The Hearing Journal (2013): Noise-Induced Tinnitus Linked to Lower Potassium Channel Activity
Εθνικός Κήρυξ (2013): Θα σώσει εκατομμύρια η έρευνα του Θάνου Τζουνόπουλου
NIH/NIDCD (2013): Grantee news, Pitt team finds biologic mechanism that causes noise-induced tinnitus and drug that can prevent it.
Journal of Neuroscience (2013): This Week in The Journal
Department of Defense (2013): Mechanisms Underlying Noise-Induced Tinnitus
Wall Street Journal (2011): Finding the Pathways to a Cause of Tinnitus
Voice of America (2011): Research Shows Tinnitus May Affect Brain Responses
National Public Radio (2011): Study Finds Cause for Tinnitus
Science Daily (2011): Tinnitus Caused by Too Little Inhibition of Brain Auditory Circuits
Becca Kral (currently in rotation)
Eleanor Johnston (currently in rotation)
Physician Scientist Training Program
International Research Scholar