A team of researchers from the University of Iowa have tapped into the resources offered by their highly specialized lab as they had an amazing opportunity of being able to study what happens in the brain of a person suffering from the debilitating condition of tinnitus.
Tinnitus affects more people that you’d think – almost 1 in 5 people have experienced an unnerving sound – mostly described as a high-pitch ringing – that in fact isn’t really there. The study, published in the scientific journal Current Biology, focuses on how different is tinnitus from the representation of normal sounds in the brain.
Will Sedley, study co-author said that the most impressive discovery resulted from this brain experiment was that tinnitus activity covered a larger part of the brain that was previously thought.
When scientists mimicked the tinnitus sound, however, the brain response could be located in just a small area. Such a discovery has significant consequences over the treatment for tinnitus – which currently has no efficient cure.
As Phillip Gander, study co-author and postdoctoral research scholar, by knowing that tinnitus isn’t represented in the brain as normal sounds are, medical experts can now abandon the effort of treating it by targeting just a specific part of the hearing system.
Both Gander and Sedley are part of the Human Brain Research Laboratory (HBRL) – a multinational group with research teams from all around the globe. They focus on studying recordings of neural activity in order to explore the relation between cognitive, sensory, and perceptual processes and their effects on emotion, language, hearing, and speech.
Few patients are available to participate in the kind of experiments HBRL does – mostly because it requires invasive brain mapping. At the same time, such patients often volunteer to participate in research studies which are less invasive.
For this study, researchers monitored and compared brain activity when tinnitus was stronger and then weaker. They discovered that the tinnitus-linked brain activity reached far beyond the classic auditory cortical regions; instead it extended to almost the entirety of the auditory cortex, and even other parts of the brain.
Such surprising conclusions are finally offering an answer as to why treating tinnitus has proved to be such a challenge. The fact that it is not just a consequence of hearing damage, therefore it is not confined by the auditory cortex, is also the reason why it actively affects wider brain systems.
EMG (or Electromagnetic brain stimulation) and neurofeedback (controlling the brainwaves) are two possible treatments resulting from the study’s conclusions.
Image Source: Revers My Tinnitus Guide
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