Potassium (K + ) channels shape the response properties of neurons. Although enormous progress has been made to characterize K + channels in the primary auditory neurons, the molecular identities of many of these channels and their contributions to hearing in vivo remain unknown. Using a combination of RNA sequencing and single molecule fluorescent in situ hybridization, we localized expression of transcripts encoding the sodium-activated potassium channels K Na 1.1 (SLO2.2/Slack) and K Na 1.2 (SLO2.1/Slick) to the primary auditory neurons (spiral ganglion neurons, SGNs). To examine the contribution of these channels to function of the SGNs in vivo, we measured auditory brainstem responses in K Na 1.1/1.2 double knockout (DKO) mice. Although auditory brainstem response (wave I) thresholds were not altered, the amplitudes of suprathreshold responses were reduced in DKO mice. This reduction in amplitude occurred despite normal numbers and molecular architecture of the SGNs and their synapses with the inner hair cells. Patch clamp electrophysiology of SGNs isolated from DKO mice displayed altered membrane properties, including reduced action potential thresholds and amplitudes. These findings show that K Na 1 channel activity is essential for normal cochlear function and suggest that early forms of hearing loss may result from physiological changes in the activity of the primary auditory neurons.
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