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University of Pittsburgh



thanos tzounopoulos

Thanos Tzounopoulos, PhD

Endowed Professor and Vice Chair of Research

Department of Otolaryngology
Biomedical Science Tower 3
3501 Fifth Avenue Room 3017, Pittsburgh, PA 15261
Phone: 412-383-8626


Positions Available

We are always looking for highly committed students and postdocs. If you are interested, please email me at:


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 PhD 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.


Current Research

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, studies 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.

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, 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 focuses on the circuit, synaptic and intrinsic mechanisms via which cortical neurons mediate top-down modulation of auditory processing in normal and disease states.


Selected Recent Publications (last 5 years)

Bopanna I. Kalappa and Thanos Tzounopoulos (2017). Context-Dependent Modulation of Excitatory Synaptic Strength by Synaptically Released Zinc. eNeuro, 2017 Mar 3;4(1).

Ankur Joshi, Bopanna I. Kalappa, Charles T. Anderson and Thanos Tzounopoulos (2016). Cell-Specific Cholinergic Modulation of Excitability of Layer 5B Principal Neurons in Mouse Auditory Cortex. Journal of Neuroscience, 2016 Aug 10;36(32):8487-99.

Kumar M, Reed N, Liu R, Aizenman E, Wipf P, Tzounopoulos T (2016). Synthesis and Evaluation of Potent KCNQ2/3-specific Channel Activators. Mol Pharmacol. 2016 Mar 22. pii: mol.115.103200.

Bopanna I. Kalappa, Charles T. Anderson, Jacob M. Goldberg, Stephen J. Lippard, Thanos Tzounopoulos (2015). AMPA Receptor Inhibition by Synaptically Released Zinc. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA (PNAS), 2015 Dec 8. pii: 201512296

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, Stephen J. Lippard, Thanos Tzounopoulos (2015). Tonic Non-Vesicular Zinc Inhibits Spontaneous Neuronal Firing in Dorsal Cochlear Nucleus Principal Neurons by Enhancing Tonic Glycinergic Inhibition. Neurobiology of Disease, Neurobiol Dis. 2015 Sep;81:14-9. doi: 10.1016/j.nbd.2015.03.012.

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.

Doiron B, Zhao Y, Tzounopoulos T (2011). Combined LTP and LTD of Modulatory Inputs Controls Neuronal Processing of Primary Sensory Inputs. Journal of Neuroscience, 2011 Jul 20;31(29):10579-92.

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 and Review Articles on Our Work

University of Pittsburgh (2016): Sound Investment: Pitt, Allergan to Collaborate on Tinnitus Research
UPMC/University of Pittsburgh (2016): Pitt Team Redesigns Epilepsy Drug to Increase Potency and Specificity, Reduce Side Effects
Molecular Pharmacology Highlights (2016): MOL Highlight: Synthesis and Evaluation of Potent KCNQ2/3-Specific Channel Activators
Expert Opin Ther Targets (2015): Potassium channels as promising new targets for pharmacologic treatment of tinnitus: Can internet-based "crowd sensing" initiated by patients speed up the transition from bench to bedside?
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

Lab Members

Research Assistant Professor

Shoucheng Du, PhD

Postdoctoral Fellows

Manoj Kumar, PhD

Stelios Kouvaros, PhD

Graduate Students

Nathan Vogler

Becca Kral

Amanda Henton

Patrick Cody


Laura Marinos