Tinnitus: maladaptive plasticity?
AbstractTinnitus is a symptom, not a disease. Tinnitus is often accompanied by hyperacusis as well as hearing loss. Tinnitus is foremost not an auditory disorder but a particular consequence of hearing loss, and then only in about 1/3 of the cases. Tinnitus can also result from insults such as whiplash, via somatic-auditory interaction in the dorsal cochlear nucleus. These are examples of bottom-up mechanisms that may underlie tinnitus. Much is known about necessary neural substrates of tinnitus, but much less about the sufficient ones. I will review proposals from animal research for these neural correlates, i.e., increased spontaneous firing rates, increased neural synchrony and reorganized cortical tonotopic maps. These can occur following noise trauma, but also following long-term exposure to non-traumatic (< 70 dBA) sounds. Homeostatic plasticity may play a role. I will compare these findings with what is known from human imaging and electrophysiology in tinnitus patients, and suggest that animal studies and human findings related to tinnitus are so far not fully compatible.
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