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Hear Res. 2013 Jan;295:87-99. doi: 10.1016/j.heares.2012.03.003. Epub 2012 Mar 14.

Neural correlates of tinnitus related distress: an fMRI-study.

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Georg-August-University, Georg-Elias-Mueller-Institute of Psychology, Department of Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy, Gosslerstrasse 14, 37073 Goettingen, Germany.


Chronic tinnitus affects approximately 5% of the population. Severe distress due to the phantom noise is experienced by 20% of the tinnitus patients. This distress cannot be predicted by psychoacoustic features of the tinnitus. It is commonly assumed that negative cognitive emotional evaluation of the tinnitus and its expected consequences is a major factor that determines the impact of tinnitus-related distress. Models of tinnitus distress and recently conducted research propose differences in limbic, frontal and parietal processing between highly and low distressed tinnitus patients. An experimental paradigm using verbal material to stimulate cognitive emotional processing of tinnitus-related information was conducted. Age and sex matched highly (n = 16) and low (n = 16) distressed tinnitus patients and healthy controls (n = 16) underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while sentences with neutral, negative or tinnitus-related content were presented. A random effects group analysis was performed on the basis of the general linear model. Tinnitus patients showed stronger activations to tinnitus-related sentences in comparison to neutral sentences than healthy controls in various limbic/emotion processing areas, such as the anterior cingulate cortex, midcingulate cortex, posterior cingulate cortex, retrosplenial cortex and insula and also in frontal areas. Highly and low distressed tinnitus patients differed in terms of activation of the left middle frontal gyrus. A connectivity analysis and correlational analysis between the predictors of the general linear model of relevant contrasts and tinnitus-related distress further supported the idea of a fronto-parietal-cingulate network, which seems to be more active in highly distressed tinnitus patients. This network may present an aspecific distress network. Based on the findings the left middle frontal gyrus and the right medial frontal gyrus are suggested as target regions for neuromodulatory approaches in the treatment of tinnitus. For future studies we recommend the use of idiosyncratic stimulus material.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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