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PLoS One. 2011;6(10):e26639. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0026639. Epub 2011 Oct 31.

Discrimination task reveals differences in neural bases of tinnitus and hearing impairment.

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Department of Speech and Hearing Science, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Champaign, Illinois, United States of America.


We investigated auditory perception and cognitive processing in individuals with chronic tinnitus or hearing loss using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Our participants belonged to one of three groups: bilateral hearing loss and tinnitus (TIN), bilateral hearing loss without tinnitus (HL), and normal hearing without tinnitus (NH). We employed pure tones and frequency-modulated sweeps as stimuli in two tasks: passive listening and active discrimination. All subjects had normal hearing through 2 kHz and all stimuli were low-pass filtered at 2 kHz so that all participants could hear them equally well. Performance was similar among all three groups for the discrimination task. In all participants, a distributed set of brain regions including the primary and non-primary auditory cortices showed greater response for both tasks compared to rest. Comparing the groups directly, we found decreased activation in the parietal and frontal lobes in the participants with tinnitus compared to the HL group and decreased response in the frontal lobes relative to the NH group. Additionally, the HL subjects exhibited increased response in the anterior cingulate relative to the NH group. Our results suggest that a differential engagement of a putative auditory attention and short-term memory network, comprising regions in the frontal, parietal and temporal cortices and the anterior cingulate, may represent a key difference in the neural bases of chronic tinnitus accompanied by hearing loss relative to hearing loss alone.

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