Tinnitus mapped out for first time

Signals relating to the ringing noise of tinnitus have finally been mapped across the human brain.

Whilst undergoing surgery, a patient with tinnitus was monitored using 164 electrodes.  Researchers then compared brain activity when the tinnitus was loud compared with when it was quiet, and observed the brain’s reactions to the two.

Tinnitus continues to be a detriment to many people, affecting around 10 per cent of adults in the UK, with 1 per cent dealing with symptoms severe enough to affect their day-to-day lives.  Often tinnitus is a ringing noise, but it can also be anything from a roar to a hiss.

Previous attempts at a similar study have been attempted using scanners such as MRI machines, but they are much less precise than the electrodes used in the new study.  Only one other team has been able to monitor the effect of tinnitus from within the brain, though, and only using four electrodes.

Dr Phillip Gander from the University of Iowa, said:

"It is such a rarity that a person requiring invasive electrode monitoring for epilepsy also has tinnitus that we aim to study every such person if they are willing."

The patient was a 50 year old man with intractable epilepsy.  For 60 seconds over the course of two days, the subject was played a 30 second burst of noise on headphones: about half of the time, the tinnitus was quiet in the period immediately following the noise. 

This meant that researchers were able to map out particular ‘oscillations’ – rhythmic brain waves caused by neurons firing in synchrony – that could be linked to the tinnitus.

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