The phantom auditory perception of subjective tinnitus is associated with aberrant brain activity as evidenced by magneto- and electroencephalographic studies. We tested the hypotheses (1) that psychoacoustically measured tinnitus loudness is related to gamma oscillatory band power, and (2) that tinnitus loudness and tinnitus-related distress are related to distinct brain activity patterns as suggested by the distinction between loudness and distress experienced by tinnitus patients. Furthermore, we explored (3) how hearing impairment, minimum masking level, and (4) psychological comorbidities are related to spontaneous oscillatory brain activity in tinnitus patients.
Methods and Findings
Resting state oscillatory brain activity recorded electroencephalographically from 46 male tinnitus patients showed a positive correlation between gamma band oscillations and psychoacoustic tinnitus loudness determined with the reconstructed tinnitus sound, but not with the other psychoacoustic loudness measures that were used. Tinnitus-related distress did also correlate with delta band activity, but at electrode positions different from those associated with tinnitus loudness. Furthermore, highly distressed tinnitus patients exhibited a higher level of theta band activity. Moreover, mean hearing loss between 0.125 kHz and 16 kHz was associated with a decrease in gamma activity, whereas minimum masking levels correlated positively with delta band power. In contrast, psychological comorbidities did not express significant correlations with oscillatory brain activity.
Different clinically relevant tinnitus characteristics show distinctive associations with spontaneous brain oscillatory power. Results support hypothesis (1), but exclusively for the tinnitus loudness derived from matching to the reconstructed tinnitus sound. This suggests to preferably use the reconstructed tinnitus spectrum to determine psychoacoustic tinnitus loudness. Results also support hypothesis (2). Moreover, hearing loss and minimum masking level correlate with oscillatory power in distinctive frequency bands. The lack of an association between psychological comorbidities and oscillatory power may be attributed to the overall low level of mental health problems in the present sample.
Non-pulsatile tinnitus is considered a subjective auditory phantom phenomenon present in 10 to 15% of the population. Tinnitus as a phantom phenomenon is related to hyperactivity and reorganization of the auditory cortex. Magnetoencephalography studies demonstrate a correlation between gamma band activity in the contralateral auditory cortex and the presence of tinnitus. The present study aims to investigate the relation between objective gamma-band activity in the contralateral auditory cortex and subjective tinnitus loudness scores.
Methods and Findings
In unilateral tinnitus patients (N = 15; 10 right, 5 left) source analysis of resting state electroencephalographic gamma band oscillations shows a strong positive correlation with Visual Analogue Scale loudness scores in the contralateral auditory cortex (max r = 0.73, p<0.05).
Auditory phantom percepts thus show similar sound level dependent activation of the contralateral auditory cortex as observed in normal audition. In view of recent consciousness models and tinnitus network models these results suggest tinnitus loudness is coded by gamma band activity in the contralateral auditory cortex but might not, by itself, be responsible for tinnitus perception.
Chronic tinnitus, the continuous perception of a phantom sound, is a highly prevalent audiological symptom. A promising approach for the treatment of tinnitus is repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) as this directly affects tinnitus-related brain activity. Several studies indeed show tinnitus relief after rTMS, however effects are moderate and vary strongly across patients. This may be due to a lack of knowledge regarding how rTMS affects oscillatory activity in tinnitus sufferers and which modulations are associated with tinnitus relief. In the present study we examined the effects of five different stimulation protocols (including sham) by measuring tinnitus loudness and tinnitus-related brain activity with Magnetoencephalography before and after rTMS. Changes in oscillatory activity were analysed for the stimulated auditory cortex as well as for the entire brain regarding certain frequency bands of interest (delta, theta, alpha, gamma). In line with the literature the effects of rTMS on tinnitus loudness varied strongly across patients. This variability was also reflected in the rTMS effects on oscillatory activity. Importantly, strong reductions in tinnitus loudness were associated with increases in alpha power in the stimulated auditory cortex, while an unspecific decrease in gamma and alpha power, particularly in left frontal regions, was linked to an increase in tinnitus loudness. The identification of alpha power increase as main correlate for tinnitus reduction sheds further light on the pathophysiology of tinnitus. This will hopefully stimulate the development of more effective therapy approaches.
Cortical excitability changes as well as imbalances in excitatory and inhibitory circuits play a distinct pathophysiological role in chronic tinnitus. Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) over the temporoparietal cortex was recently introduced to modulate tinnitus perception. In the current study, the effect of theta-burst stimulation (TBS), a novel rTMS paradigm was investigated in chronic tinnitus. Twenty patients with chronic tinnitus completed the study. Tinnitus severity and loudness were monitored using a tinnitus questionnaire (TQ) and a visual analogue scale (VAS) before each session. Patients received 600 pulses of continuous TBS (cTBS), intermittent TBS (iTBS) and intermediate TBS (imTBS) over left inferior temporal cortex with an intensity of 80% of the individual active or resting motor threshold. Changes in subjective tinnitus perception were measured with a numerical rating scale (NRS).
TBS applied to inferior temporal cortex appeared to be safe. Although half of the patients reported a slight attenuation of tinnitus perception, group analysis resulted in no significant difference when comparing the three specific types of TBS. Converting the NRS into the VAS allowed us to compare the time-course of aftereffects. Only cTBS resulted in a significant short-lasting improvement of the symptoms. In addition there was no significant difference when comparing the responder and non-responder groups regarding their anamnestic and audiological data. The TQ score correlated significantly with the VAS, lower loudness indicating less tinnitus distress.
TBS does not offer a promising outcome for patients with tinnitus in the presented study.
Tinnitus is an auditory phantom phenomenon characterized by the sensation of sounds without objectively identifiable sound sources. To date, its causes are not well understood. Previous research found altered patterns of spontaneous brain activity in chronic tinnitus sufferers compared to healthy controls, yet it is unknown whether these abnormal oscillatory patterns are causally related to the tinnitus sensation. Partial support for this notion comes from a neurofeedback approach developed by our group, in which significant reductions in tinnitus loudness could be achieved in patients who successfully normalized their patterns of spontaneous brain activity. The current work attempts to complement these studies by scrutinizing how modulations of tinnitus intensity alter ongoing oscillatory activity.
In the present study the relation between tinnitus sensation and spontaneous brain activity was investigated using residual inhibition (RI) to reduce tinnitus intensity and source-space projected magnetencephalographic (MEG) data to index brain activity. RI is the sustained reduction (criteria: 50% for at least 30 s) in tinnitus loudness after cessation of a tonal tinnitus masker. A pilot study (n = 38) identified 10 patients who showed RI. A significant reduction of power in the delta (1.3–4.0 Hz) frequency band was observed in temporal regions during RI (p ≤ 0.001).
The current results suggest that changes of tinnitus intensity induced by RI are mediated by alterations in the pathological patterns of spontaneous brain activity, specifically a reduction of delta activity. Delta activity is a characteristic oscillatory activity generated by deafferented/deprived neuronal networks. This implies that RI effects might reflect the transient reestablishment of balance between excitatory and inhibitory neuronal assemblies, via reafferentation, that have been perturbed (in most tinnitus individuals) by hearing damage. As enhancements have been reported in the delta frequency band for tinnitus at rest, this result conforms to our assumption that a normalization of oscillatory properties of cortical networks is a prerequisite for attenuating the tinnitus sensation. For RI to have therapeutic significance however, this normalization would have to be stabilized.
Animals exposed to noise trauma show augmented synchronous neural activity in tonotopically reorganized primary auditory cortex consequent on hearing loss. Diminished intracortical inhibition in the reorganized region appears to enable synchronous network activity that develops when deafferented neurons begin to respond to input via their lateral connections. In humans with tinnitus accompanied by hearing loss, this process may generate a phantom sound that is perceived in accordance with the location of the affected neurons in the cortical place map. The neural synchrony hypothesis predicts that tinnitus spectra, and heretofore unmeasured “residual inhibition functions” that relate residual tinnitus suppression to the center frequency of masking sounds, should cover the region of hearing loss in the audiogram. We confirmed these predictions in two independent cohorts totaling 90 tinnitus subjects, using computer-based tools designed to assess the psychoacoustic properties of tinnitus. Tinnitus spectra and residual inhibition functions for depth and duration increased with the amount of threshold shift over the region of hearing impairment. Residual inhibition depth was shallower when the masking sounds that were used to induce residual inhibition showed decreased correspondence with the frequency spectrum and bandwidth of the tinnitus. These findings suggest that tinnitus and its suppression in residual inhibition depend on processes that span the region of hearing impairment and not on mechanisms that enhance cortical representations for sound frequencies at the audiometric edge. Hearing thresholds measured in age-matched control subjects without tinnitus implicated hearing loss as a factor in tinnitus, although elevated thresholds alone were not sufficient to cause tinnitus.
residual inhibition; tinnitus spectra; neural synchrony; cortical reorganization
Tinnitus is an auditory phenomenon characterised by the perception of a sound in the absence of an external auditory stimulus. Chronic subjective tinnitus is almost certainly maintained via central mechanisms, and this is consistent with observed measures of altered spontaneous brain activity. A number of putative central auditory mechanisms for tinnitus have been proposed. The influential thalamocortical dysrhythmia model suggests that tinnitus can be attributed to the disruption of coherent oscillatory activity between thalamus and cortex following hearing loss. However, the extent to which this disruption specifically contributes to tinnitus or is simply a consequence of the hearing loss is unclear because the necessary matched controls have not been tested. Here, we rigorously test several predictions made by this model in four groups of participants (tinnitus with hearing loss, tinnitus with clinically normal hearing, no tinnitus with hearing loss and no tinnitus with clinically normal hearing). Magnetoencephalography was used to measure oscillatory brain activity within different frequency bands in a ‘resting’ state and during presentation of a masking noise. Results revealed that low-frequency activity in the delta band (1–4 Hz) was significantly higher in the ‘tinnitus with hearing loss’ group compared to the ‘no tinnitus with normal hearing’ group. A planned comparison indicated that this effect was unlikely to be driven by the hearing loss alone, but could possibly be a consequence of tinnitus and hearing loss. A further interpretative linkage to tinnitus was given by the result that the delta activity tended to reduce when tinnitus was masked. High-frequency activity in the gamma band (25–80 Hz) was not correlated with tinnitus (or hearing loss). The findings partly support the thalamocortical dysrhythmia model and suggest that slow-wave (delta band) activity may be a more reliable correlate of tinnitus than high-frequency activity.
thalamocortical dysrhythmia; tinnitus masking; magnetoencephalography; cortical oscillations
Tinnitus, the perception of sound and noise in absence of an auditory stimulus, has been shown to be associated with maladaptive neuronal reorganization and increased activity of the temporoparietal cortex. Transient modulation of tinnitus by repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) indicated that these areas are critically involved in the pathophysiology of tinnitus and suggested new treatment strategies. However, the therapeutic efficacy of rTMS in tinnitus is still unclear, individual response is variable, and the optimal stimulation area disputable. Recently, continuous theta burst stimulation (cTBS) has been put forward as an effective rTMS protocol for the reduction of pathologically enhanced cortical excitability.
48 patients with chronic subjective tinnitus will be included in this randomized, placebo controlled, three-arm trial. The treatment consists of two trains of cTBS applied bilaterally to the secondary auditory cortex, the temporoparietal associaction cortex, or to the lower occiput (sham condition) every working day for four weeks. Primary outcome measure is the change of tinnitus distress as quantified by the Tinnitus Questionnaire (TQ). Secondary outcome measures are tinnitus loudness and annoyance as well as tinnitus change during and after treatment. Audiologic and speech audiometric measurements will be performed to assess potential side effects. The aim of the present trail is to investigate effectiveness and safety of a four weeks cTBS treatment on chronic tinnitus and to compare two areas of stimulation. The results will contribute to clarify the therapeutic capacity of rTMS in tinnitus.
The trial was registered with the clinical trials register of (NCT00518024).
The physiopathological mechanism underlying the tinnitus phenomenon is still the subject of an ongoing debate. Since oscillatory EEG activity is increasingly recognized as a fundamental hallmark of cortical integrative functions, this study investigates deviations from the norm of different resting EEG parameters in patients suffering from chronic tinnitus.
Spectral parameters of resting EEG of male tinnitus patients (n = 8, mean age 54 years) were compared to those of age-matched healthy males (n = 15, mean age 58.8 years). On average, the patient group exhibited higher spectral power over the frequency range of 2-100 Hz. Using LORETA source analysis, the generators of delta, theta, alpha and beta power increases were localized dominantly to left auditory (Brodmann Areas (BA) 41,42, 22), temporo-parietal, insular posterior, cingulate anterior and parahippocampal cortical areas.
Tinnitus patients show a deviation from the norm of different resting EEG parameters, characterized by an overproduction of resting state delta, theta and beta brain activities, providing further support for the microphysiological and magnetoencephalographic evidence pointing to a thalamocortical dysrhythmic process at the source of tinnitus. These results also provide further confirmation that reciprocal involvements of both auditory and associative/paralimbic areas are essential in the generation of tinnitus.
Brain changes in response to nerve damage or cochlear trauma can generate pathological neural activity that is believed to be responsible for many types of chronic pain and tinnitus1–3. Several studies have reported that the severity of chronic pain and tinnitus is correlated with the degree of map reorganization in somatosensory and auditory cortex, respectively1,4. Direct electrical or transcranial magnetic stimulation of sensory cortex can temporarily disrupt these phantom sensations5. However, there is as yet no direct evidence for a causal role of plasticity in the generation of pain or tinnitus. Here we report evidence that reversing the brain changes responsible can eliminate the perceptual impairment in an animal model of noise-induced tinnitus. Exposure to intense noise degrades the frequency tuning of auditory cortex neurons and increases cortical synchronization. Repeatedly pairing tones with brief pulses of vagus nerve stimulation completely eliminated the physiological and behavioural correlates of tinnitus in noise-exposed rats. These improvements persisted for weeks after the end of therapy. This method for restoring neural activity to normal may be applicable to a variety of neurological disorders.
Tinnitus is a phantom auditory sensation experienced by up to 14% of the United States population with a smaller percentage experiencing decreased quality of life. A compelling hypothesis is that tinnitus results from a maladaptive plastic net down-regulation of inhibitory amino acid neurotransmission in the central auditory pathway. This loss of inhibition may be a compensatory response to loss of afferent input such as that caused by acoustic insult and/or age-related hearing loss, the most common causes of tinnitus in people. Compensatory plastic changes may result in pathologic neural activity that underpin tinnitus. The neural correlates include increased spontaneous spiking, increased bursting and decreased variance of inter-spike intervals. This review will examine evidence for chronic plastic neuropathic changes in the central auditory system of animals with psychophysically-defined tinnitus. Neurochemical studies will focus on plastic tinnitus-related changes of inhibitory glycinergic neurotransmission in the adult dorsal cochlear nucleus (DCN). Electrophysiological studies will focus on functional changes in the DCN and inferior colliculus (IC). Tinnitus was associated with increased spontaneous activity and altered response properties of fusiform cells, the major output neurons of DCN. Coincident with these physiologic alterations were changes in glycine receptor (GlyR) subunit composition, its anchoring/trafficking protein, gephyrin and the number and affinity of membrane GlyRs revealed by receptor binding. In the IC, the primary afferent target of DCN fusiform cells, multi-dimensional alterations in unit-spontaneous activity (rate, burst rate, bursting pattern) were found in animals with behavioral evidence of chronic tinnitus more than 9 months following the acoustic/cochlear insult. In contrast, immediately following an intense sound exposure, acute alterations in IC spontaneous activity resembled chronic tinnitus-related changes but were not identical. This suggests that long-term neuroplastic changes responsible for chronic tinnitus are likely to be responsible for its persistance. A clear understanding of tinnitus-related plasticity in the central auditory system and its associated neurochemistry may help define unique targets for therapeutic drug development.
Chronic subjective tinnitus is characterized by abnormal neuronal synchronization in the central auditory system. As shown in a controlled clinical trial, acoustic coordinated reset (CR) neuromodulation causes a significant relief of tinnitus symptoms along with a significant decrease of pathological oscillatory activity in a network comprising auditory and non-auditory brain areas, which is often accompanied with a significant tinnitus pitch change. Here we studied if the tinnitus pitch change correlates with a reduction of tinnitus loudness and/or annoyance as assessed by visual analog scale (VAS) scores. Furthermore, we studied if the changes of the pattern of brain synchrony in tinnitus patients induced by 12 weeks of CR therapy depend on whether or not the patients undergo a pronounced tinnitus pitch change. Therefore, we applied standardized low-resolution brain electromagnetic tomography (sLORETA) to EEG recordings from two groups of patients with a sustained CR-induced relief of tinnitus symptoms with and without tinnitus pitch change. We found that absolute changes of VAS loudness and VAS annoyance scores significantly correlate with the modulus, i.e., the absolute value, of the tinnitus pitch change. Moreover, as opposed to patients with small or no pitch change we found a significantly stronger decrease in gamma power in patients with pronounced tinnitus pitch change in right parietal cortex (Brodmann area, BA 40), right frontal cortex (BA 9, 46), left temporal cortex (BA 22, 42), and left frontal cortex (BA 4, 6), combined with a significantly stronger increase of alpha (10–12 Hz) activity in the right and left anterior cingulate cortex (ACC; BA 32, 24). In addition, we revealed a significantly lower functional connectivity in the gamma band between the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (BA 46) and the right ACC (BA 32) after 12 weeks of CR therapy in patients with pronounced pitch change. Our results indicate a substantial, CR-induced reduction of tinnitus-related auditory binding in a pitch processing network.
tinnitus; coordinated reset neuromodulation; pitch; phantom perception; gamma band activity; electroencephalography
Tinnitus is an auditory phantom perception that is most likely generated in the central nervous system. Most of the tinnitus research has concentrated on the auditory system. However, it was suggested recently that also non-auditory structures are involved in a global network that encodes subjective tinnitus. We tested this assumption using auditory steady state responses to entrain the tinnitus network and investigated long-range functional connectivity across various non-auditory brain regions.
Methods and Findings
Using whole-head magnetoencephalography we investigated cortical connectivity by means of phase synchronization in tinnitus subjects and healthy controls. We found evidence for a deviating pattern of long-range functional connectivity in tinnitus that was strongly correlated with individual ratings of the tinnitus percept. Phase couplings between the anterior cingulum and the right frontal lobe and phase couplings between the anterior cingulum and the right parietal lobe showed significant condition x group interactions and were correlated with the individual tinnitus distress ratings only in the tinnitus condition and not in the control conditions.
To the best of our knowledge this is the first study that demonstrates existence of a global tinnitus network of long-range cortical connections outside the central auditory system. This result extends the current knowledge of how tinnitus is generated in the brain. We propose that this global extend of the tinnitus network is crucial for the continuos perception of the tinnitus tone and a therapeutical intervention that is able to change this network should result in relief of tinnitus.
The objective was to examine functional connectivity linked to the auditory system in patients with bothersome tinnitus. Activity was low frequency (< 0.1 Hz), spontaneous blood oxygenation level-dependent (BOLD) responses at rest. The question was whether the experience of chronic bothersome tinnitus induced changes in synaptic efficacy between co-activated components. Functional connectivity for seed regions in auditory, visual, attention, and control networks was computed across all 2 mm3 brain volumes in 17 patients with moderate-severe bothersome tinnitus (Tinnitus Handicap Index: average 53.5 ± 3.6 (range 38-76)) and 17 age-matched controls.
In bothersome tinnitus, negative correlations reciprocally characterized functional connectivity between auditory and occipital/visual cortex. Negative correlations indicate that when BOLD response magnitudes increased in auditory or visual cortex they decreased in the linked visual or auditory cortex, suggesting reciprocally phase reversed activity between functionally connected locations in tinnitus. Both groups showed similar connectivity with positive correlations within the auditory network. Connectivity for primary visual cortex in tinnitus included extensive negative correlations in the ventral attention temporoparietal junction and in the inferior frontal gyrus and rostral insula - executive control network components. Rostral insula and inferior frontal gyrus connectivity in tinnitus also showed greater negative correlations in occipital cortex.
These results imply that in bothersome tinnitus there is dissociation between activity in auditory cortex and visual, attention and control networks. The reciprocal negative correlations in connectivity between these networks might be maladaptive or reflect adaptations to reduce phantom noise salience and conflict with attention to non-auditory tasks.
tinnitus; human; MRI; connectivity
Tinnitus has a complex etiology that involves auditory and non-auditory factors and may be accompanied by hyperacusis, anxiety and cognitive changes. Thus far, investigations of the interrelationship between tinnitus and auditory and non-auditory impairment have yielded conflicting results. To further address this issue, we noise exposed rats and assessed them for tinnitus using a gap detection behavioral paradigm combined with statistically-driven analysis to diagnose tinnitus in individual rats. We also tested rats for hearing detection, responsivity, and loss using prepulse inhibition and auditory brainstem response, and for spatial cognition and anxiety using Morris water maze and elevated plus maze. We found that our tinnitus diagnosis method reliably separated noise-exposed rats into tinnitus(+) and tinnitus(−) groups and detected no evidence of tinnitus in tinnitus(−) and control rats. In addition, the tinnitus(+) group demonstrated enhanced startle amplitude, indicating hyperacusis-like behavior. Despite these results, neither tinnitus, hyperacusis nor hearing loss yielded any significant effects on spatial learning and memory or anxiety, though a majority of rats with the highest anxiety levels had tinnitus. These findings showed that we were able to develop a clinically relevant tinnitus(+) group and that our diagnosis method is sound. At the same time, like clinical studies, we found that tinnitus does not always result in cognitive-emotional dysfunction, although tinnitus may predispose subjects to certain impairment like anxiety. Other behavioral assessments may be needed to further define the relationship between tinnitus and anxiety, cognitive deficits, and other impairments.
Tinnitus is defined as an intrinsic sound perception that cannot be attributed to an external sound source. Distress in tinnitus patients is related to increased beta activity in the dorsal part of the anterior cingulate and the amount of distress correlates with network activity consisting of the amygdala-anterior cingulate cortex-insula-parahippocampus. Previous research also revealed that distress is associated to a higher sympathetic (OS) tone in tinnitus patients and tinnitus suppression to increased parasympathetic (PS) tone.
The aim of the present study is to investigate the relationship between tinnitus distress and the autonomic nervous system and find out which cortical areas are involved in the autonomic nervous system influences in tinnitus distress by the use of source localized resting state electroencephalogram (EEG) recordings and electrocardiogram (ECG). Twenty-one tinnitus patients were included in this study.
The results indicate that the dorsal and subgenual anterior cingulate, as well as the left and right insula are important in the central control of heart rate variability in tinnitus patients. Whereas the sympathovagal balance is controlled by the subgenual and pregenual anterior cingulate cortex, the right insula controls sympathetic activity and the left insula the parasympathetic activity. The perceived distress in tinnitus patients seems to be sympathetically mediated.
Subjective tinnitus is characterized by an auditory phantom perception in the absence of any physical sound source. Consequently, in a quiet environment, tinnitus patients differ from control participants because they constantly perceive a sound whereas controls do not. We hypothesized that this difference is expressed by differential activation of distributed cortical networks.
The analysis was based on a sample of 41 participants: 21 patients with chronic tinnitus and 20 healthy control participants. To investigate the architecture of these networks, we used phase locking analysis in the 1–90 Hz frequency range of a minute of resting-state MEG recording. We found: 1) For tinnitus patients: A significant decrease of inter-areal coupling in the alpha (9–12 Hz) band and an increase of inter-areal coupling in the 48–54 Hz gamma frequency range relative to the control group. 2) For both groups: an inverse relationship (r = -.71) of the alpha and gamma network coupling. 3) A discrimination of 83% between the patient and the control group based on the alpha and gamma networks. 4) An effect of manifestation on the distribution of the gamma network: In patients with a tinnitus history of less than 4 years, the left temporal cortex was predominant in the gamma network whereas in patients with tinnitus duration of more than 4 years, the gamma network was more widely distributed including more frontal and parietal regions.
In the here presented data set we found strong support for an alteration of long-range coupling in tinnitus. Long-range coupling in the alpha frequency band was decreased for tinnitus patients while long-range gamma coupling was increased. These changes discriminate well between tinnitus and control participants. We propose a tinnitus model that integrates this finding in the current knowledge about tinnitus. Furthermore we discuss the impact of this finding to tinnitus therapies using Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS).
An inherent limitation of functional imaging studies is their correlational approach. More information about critical contributions of specific brain regions can be gained by focal transient perturbation of neural activity in specific regions with non-invasive focal brain stimulation methods. Functional imaging studies have revealed that tinnitus is related to alterations in neuronal activity of central auditory pathways. Modulation of neuronal activity in auditory cortical areas by repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) can reduce tinnitus loudness and, if applied repeatedly, exerts therapeutic effects, confirming the relevance of auditory cortex activation for tinnitus generation and persistence. Measurements of oscillatory brain activity before and after rTMS demonstrate that the same stimulation protocol has different effects on brain activity in different patients, presumably related to interindividual differences in baseline activity in the clinically heterogeneous study cohort. In addition to alterations in auditory pathways, imaging techniques also indicate the involvement of non-auditory brain areas, such as the fronto-parietal “awareness” network and the non-tinnitus-specific distress network consisting of the anterior cingulate cortex, anterior insula, and amygdale. Involvement of the hippocampus and the parahippocampal region putatively reflects the relevance of memory mechanisms in the persistence of the phantom percept and the associated distress. Preliminary studies targeting the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, and the parietal cortex with rTMS and with transcranial direct current stimulation confirm the relevance of the mentioned non-auditory networks. Available data indicate the important value added by brain stimulation as a complementary approach to neuroimaging for identifying the neuronal correlates of the various clinical aspects of tinnitus.
chronic tinnitus; neuromodulation; neuroimaging; neuronal correlates; brain stimulation
Tinnitus is the perception of a sound in the absence of any objective physical sound source. Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS) induces shifts in membrane resting potentials depending on the polarity of the stimulation: under the anode gamma band activity increases, whereas under the cathode the opposite occurs. Both single and multiple sessions of tDCS over the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC; anode over right DLPFC) yield a transient improvement in tinnitus intensity and tinnitus distress. The question arises whether optimization of the tDCS protocol can be obtained by using EEG driven decisions on where to place anode and cathode. Using gamma band functional connectivity could be superior to gamma band activity as functional connectivity determines the tinnitus network in many aspects of chronic tinnitus. Six-hundred-seventy-five patients were included in the study: 265 patients received tDCS with cathodal electrode placed over the left DLPFC and the anode placed overlying the right DLPFC, 380 patients received tDCS based on EEG connectivity, and 65 received no tDCS (i.e., waiting list control group). Repeated measures ANOVA revealed a significant main effect for pre versus post measurement. Bifrontal tDCS in comparison to EEG driven tDCS had a larger reduction for both tinnitus distress and tinnitus intensity. Whereas the results of the bifrontal tDCS seem to confirm previous studies, the use of gamma band functional connectivity seems not to bring any advantage to tDCS for tinnitus suppression. Using other potential biomarkers, such as gamma band activity, or theta functional connectivity could theoretically be of use. Further studies will have to elucidate whether brain state based tDCS has any advantages over “blind” bifrontal stimulation.
tinnitus; EEG; tDCS; direct current; gamma
Tinnitus is an auditory sensation characterized by the perception of sound or noise in the absence of any external sound source. Based on neurobiological research, it is generally accepted that most forms of tinnitus are attributable to maladaptive plasticity due to damage to auditory system. Changes have been observed in auditory structures such as the inferior colliculus, the thalamus and the auditory cortex as well as in non-auditory brain areas. However, the observed changes show great variability, hence lacking a conclusive picture. One of the reasons might be the selection of inhomogeneous groups in data analysis.
The aim of the present study was to delineate the differences between the neural networks involved in narrow band noise and pure tone tinnitus conducting LORETA based source analysis of resting state EEG.
Results demonstrated that narrow band noise tinnitus patients differ from pure tone tinnitus patients in the lateral frontopolar (BA 10), PCC and the parahippocampal area for delta, beta and gamma frequency bands, respectively. The parahippocampal-PCC current density differences might be load dependent, as noise-like tinnitus constitutes multiple frequencies in contrast to pure tone tinnitus. The lateral frontopolar differences might be related to pitch specific memory retrieval.
Tinnitus is the perception of a sound, a so-called “phantom sound,” in the absence of a physical sound. The phantom perception persists after transection of the auditory nerve, indicating that the site of tinnitus manifestation is in the central nervous system. Imaging studies in tinnitus sufferers have revealed increased neuronal activity—hyperactivity—in subcortical and cortical auditory centers. These studies have demonstrated that non-auditory brain areas, such as the limbic system, are involved in the neural basis of tinnitus, Finally human imaging studies have led to novel hypotheses for the generation of tinnitus, such as the thalamocortical dysrhythmia hypothesis. Imaging in animal models of tinnitus exhibit similarities to results from human studies and have revealed hyperexcitability of auditory brain centers as a neural correlate of tinnitus. We propose that the comparison between animal model and human studies will aid in the design of appropriate experimental paradigms aimed at elucidating the cellular and circuit mechanisms underlying tinnitus.
tinnitus; imaging; fMRI; PET; flavoproteins autofluorescence; auditory; limbic
A significant proportion of the population suffers from tinnitus, a bothersome auditory phantom perception that can severely alter the quality of life. Numerous experimental studies suggests that a maladaptive plasticity of the auditory and limbic cortical areas may underlie tinnitus. Accordingly, repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) has been repeatedly used with success to reduce tinnitus intensity. The potential of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), another promising method of noninvasive brain stimulation, to relieve tinnitus has not been explored systematically. In a double-blind, placebo-controlled and balanced order design, 20 patients suffering from chronic untreatable tinnitus were submitted to 20 minutes of 1 mA anodal, cathodal and sham tDCS targeting the left temporoparietal area. The primary outcome measure was a change in tinnitus intensity or discomfort assessed with a Visual Analogic Scale (VAS) change-scale immediately after tDCS and 1 hour later. Compared to sham tDCS, anodal tDCS significantly reduced tinnitus intensity immediately after stimulation; whereas cathodal tDCS failed to do so. The variances of the tinnitus intensity and discomfort VAS change-scales increased dramatically after anodal and cathodal tDCS, whereas they remained virtually unchanged after sham tDCS. Moreover, several patients unexpectedly reported longer-lasting effects (at least several days) such as tinnitus improvement, worsening, or changes in tinnitus features, more frequently after real than sham tDCS. Anodal tDCS is a promising therapeutic tool for modulating tinnitus perception. Moreover, both anodal and cathodal tDCS seem able to alter tinnitus perception and could, thus, be used to trigger plastic changes.
Tinnitus; Transcranial direct current stimulation; Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation; Noninvasive brain stimulation; Brain plasticity
Sensory training therapies for tinnitus are based on the assumption that, notwithstanding neural changes related to tinnitus, auditory training can alter the response properties of neurons in auditory pathways. To assess this assumption, we investigated whether brain changes induced by sensory training in tinnitus sufferers and measured by electroencephalography (EEG) are similar to those induced in age and hearing loss matched individuals without tinnitus trained on the same auditory task. Auditory training was given using a 5 kHz 40-Hz amplitude-modulated (AM) sound that was in the tinnitus frequency region of the tinnitus subjects and enabled extraction of the 40-Hz auditory steady-state response (ASSR) and P2 transient response known to localize to primary and non-primary auditory cortex, respectively. P2 amplitude increased over training sessions equally in participants with tinnitus and in control subjects, suggesting normal remodeling of non-primary auditory regions in tinnitus. However, training-induced changes in the ASSR differed between the tinnitus and control groups. In controls the phase delay between the 40-Hz response and stimulus waveforms reduced by about 10° over training, in agreement with previous results obtained in young normal hearing individuals. However, ASSR phase did not change significantly with training in the tinnitus group, although some participants showed phase shifts resembling controls. On the other hand, ASSR amplitude increased with training in the tinnitus group, whereas in controls this response (which is difficult to remodel in young normal hearing subjects) did not change with training. These results suggest that neural changes related to tinnitus altered how neural plasticity was expressed in the region of primary but not non-primary auditory cortex. Auditory training did not reduce tinnitus loudness although a small effect on the tinnitus spectrum was detected.
tinnitus; neural plasticity; auditory system; sensory training; EEG
Tinnitus is a common disorder characterized by ringing in the ear in the absence of sound. Converging evidence suggests that tinnitus pathophysiology involves damage to peripheral and/or central auditory pathways. However, whether auditory system dysfunction is sufficient to explain chronic tinnitus is unclear, especially in light of evidence implicating other networks, including the limbic system. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging and voxel-based morphometry, we assessed tinnitus-related functional and anatomical anomalies in auditory and limbic networks. Moderate hyperactivity was present in the primary and posterior auditory cortices of tinnitus patients. However, the nucleus accumbens exhibited the greatest degree of hyperactivity, specifically to sounds frequency-matched to patients’ tinnitus. Complementary structural differences were identified in ventromedial prefrontal cortex, another limbic structure heavily connected to the nucleus accumbens. Furthermore, tinnitus-related anomalies were intercorrelated in the two limbic regions and between limbic and primary auditory areas, indicating the importance of auditory-limbic interactions in tinnitus.
Low frequency repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) has been proposed as an innovative treatment for chronic tinnitus. The aim of the present study was to elucidate the underlying mechanism and to evaluate the relationship between clinical outcome and changes in cortical excitability. We investigated ten patients with chronic tinnitus who participated in a sham-controlled crossover treatment trial. Magnetic-resonance-imaging and positron-emission-tomography guided 1 Hz rTMS were performed over the auditory cortex on 5 consecutive days. Active and sham treatments were separated by one week. Parameters of cortical excitability (motor thresholds, intracortical inhibition, intracortical facilitation, cortical silent period) were measured serially before and after rTMS treatment by using single- and paired-pulse transcranial magnetic stimulation. Clinical improvement was assessed with a standardized tinnitus-questionnaire.
We noted a significant interaction between treatment response and changes in motor cortex excitability during active rTMS. Specifically, clinical improvement was associated with an increase in intracortical inhibition, intracortical facilitation and a prolongation of the cortical silent period. These results indicate that intraindividual changes in cortical excitability may serve as a correlate of response to rTMS treatment.
The observed alterations of cortical excitability suggest that low frequency rTMS may evoke long-term-depression like effects resulting in an improvement of subcortical inhibitory function.