Groundbreaking Tinnitus Research
For the first time in history, researchers have mapped the impulses of the brain responsible for the “auditory phantom” know as Tinnitus. And the results are nothing short of astonishing.
For as long as we’ve been digging into the subject, Tinnitus has been believed to center around the auditory cortex, the bundle of nerves that send electrical impulses from the ear to the brain, which we interpret as sound. But thanks to the willingness of one 50-year-old patient with intractable epilepsy, that belief may have been forever cast into doubt.
The anonymous patient was scheduled for brain surgery to control his epilepsy and the medical team implanted him with 168 electrodes to monitor the activity of his brain in advance of that procedure. As it happens, this patient also suffers from Tinnitus. Lucky for all of us who also suffer from Tinnitus, while he was wired up, he allowed the team to subject him to bursts of sound and measure his brain’s response.
The study centered around a phenomenon you may be aware of known as “residual inhibition”. Namely, when a Tinnitus sufferer is exposed to an intense sound, the Tinnitus they perceive will fade for a brief period. By measuring the brain in these periods of inactive Tinnitus, and comparing them to normal state brain activity, the researchers were able to pinpoint the area where Tinnitus is perceived in the brain.
And it’s a whole lot bigger than we ever thought.
What this (potentially) means is that efforts at controlling Tinnitus by focusing on the auditory nerve have failed because the target is too narrow. We now have information that suggests we need to widen our net.
From an article at BBC.com:
Prof Andrew King, an auditory neuroscientist at Oxford University, said the results were a “huge step up” in terms of tracing the detailed underpinnings of tinnitus, particularly compared to brain imaging.
“There are a lot of animal studies which look at what happens to individual neurons… but human work has largely been limited to fMRI,” he said.
“So this provides a step in between. It provides much higher resolution information about the changes that take place in the brain – albeit of this one individual – whilst tinnitus is being perceived.”
Prof King agreed that the findings were a striking confirmation of the idea that tinnitus is not a simple product of changes within the hearing pathway.
“In order to reach the level of conscious perception, there are other areas involved,” he said.[/thrive_custom_box]
Not a Full Study
Now, those of you with a scientific background may be thinking, “One person does not a representative sample make”. And you’d be 100% correct. But just knowing that Tinnitus activity in one person’s brain covers a far more significant area of the cerebral cortex than we ever considered could open the doors to follow up studies that could eventually lead us to a cure.