Millions of people suffer from tinnitus. Scientists are carrying out an extensive research project to investigate the role of the brain in the creation of the unpleasant ringing and buzzing noises in the ear. The aim is to find an effective treatment or even a cure.
Supported by a grant of USD2.9 million from the National Institutes of Health, the State University of New York, Buffalo, scientists are to study the brain signals responsible for creating the phantom sounds.
“For many years it was thought that the buzzing or ringing sounds heard by people with tinnitus originated in the ear. But by using positron emission tomography, known as PET scanning, to view the brain activity of people with tinnitus, we've been able to show that these phantom auditory sensations originated somewhere in the brain, not in the ear. That changed the whole research approach,” said Richard Salvi, principal investigator.
Mapping of brain activity
Salvi and colleagues have discovered that when the brain's auditory cortex begins receiving diminished neural signals from the cochlea in the ear, due to injury or age, the auditory cortex ”?turns up the volume,' increasing weak neural signals from the cochlea. Increasing the volume of these weak signals may be experienced as the buzzing, ringing, or hissing characteristic of tinnitus. Currently there is no drug or treatment that can abolish these phantom sounds.
One of the major goals of the project is to try to identify the neural signature of tinnitus. The study also involves the use of potential therapeutic drugs to suppress the tinnitus.
Published on hear-it on June 23, 2008.
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