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Neuroimage. 2009 May 15;46(1):213-8. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2009.01.069. Epub 2009 Feb 12.

Structural brain changes in tinnitus: grey matter decrease in auditory and non-auditory brain areas.

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Department of Psychiatry, Psychosomatics, and Psychotherapy, University of Regensburg, Universitaetsstrasse 84, 93053 Regensburg, Germany.


Tinnitus, the phantom perception of sound, is a frequent disorder that causes significant morbidity. The pathophysiological mechanisms involved in tinnitus generation are still under exploration. Electrophysiological and functional neuroimaging studies give increasing evidence for abnormal functioning both within the central auditory system and in non-auditory brain areas. However, observed changes show great variability, hence lacking a conclusive picture. Recently, structural alterations in the central nervous system have been detected in tinnitus patients by voxel-based morphometry (VBM). Here we aimed to replicate these findings in an independent study sample. We performed structural MRI scans in 28 tinnitus patients with normal audiometry and used VBM to compare results with a control group, matched for age, sex and hearing status. As major results we found significant grey matter decreases in the tinnitus group in the right inferior colliculus and in the left hippocampus. However, neither changes in the subcallosal area nor in the thalamus as described recently have been observed. Our results underscore that (1.) VBM allows to detect structural alterations in tinnitus patients, which seem to be related to tinnitus pathophysiology. (2.) Both, areas in the auditory and the limbic system are involved giving further evidence for the important role of the limbic system in the pathophysiology of tinnitus. (3.) Even groups with similar clinical characteristics might differ in the underlying neurobiological changes.

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