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J Commun Disord. 2007 Jul-Aug;40(4):313-34. Epub 2007 Mar 14.

The role of central nervous system plasticity in tinnitus.

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Department of Otorhinolaryngololgy, Head and Neck Surgery, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA.


Tinnitus is a vexing disorder of hearing characterized by sound sensations originating in the head without any external stimulation. The specific etiology of these sensations is uncertain but frequently associated with hearing loss. The "neurophysiogical" model of tinnitus has enhanced appreciation of central nervous system (CNS) contributions. The model assumes that plastic changes in the primary and non-primary auditory pathways contribute to tinnitus with the former perhaps sustaining them, and the latter contributing to perceived severity and emotionality. These plastic changes are triggered by peripheral injury, which results in new patterns of brain activity due to anatomic alterations in the connectivity of CNS neurons. These alterations may change the balance between excitatory and inhibitory brain processes, perhaps producing cascades of new neural activity flowing between brainstem and cortex in a self-sustaining manner that produces persistent perceptions of tinnitus. The bases of this model are explored with an attempt to distinguish phenomenological from mechanistic explanations.


(1) Readers will learn that the variables associated with the behavioral experience of tinnitus are as complex as the biological variables. (2) Readers will understand what the concept of neuroplastic brain change means, and how it is associated with tinnitus. (3) Readers will learn that there may be no one brain location associated with tinnitus, and it may result from interactions between multiple brain areas. (4) Readers will learn how disinhibition, spontaneous activity, neural synchronization, and tonotopic reorganization may contribute to tinnitus.

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