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Front Syst Neurosci. 2012 Apr 9;6:15. doi: 10.3389/fnsys.2012.00015. eCollection 2012.

Neuroimaging and neuromodulation: complementary approaches for identifying the neuronal correlates of tinnitus.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, University of Regensburg Regensburg, Germany.


An inherent limitation of functional imaging studies is their correlational approach. More information about critical contributions of specific brain regions can be gained by focal transient perturbation of neural activity in specific regions with non-invasive focal brain stimulation methods. Functional imaging studies have revealed that tinnitus is related to alterations in neuronal activity of central auditory pathways. Modulation of neuronal activity in auditory cortical areas by repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) can reduce tinnitus loudness and, if applied repeatedly, exerts therapeutic effects, confirming the relevance of auditory cortex activation for tinnitus generation and persistence. Measurements of oscillatory brain activity before and after rTMS demonstrate that the same stimulation protocol has different effects on brain activity in different patients, presumably related to interindividual differences in baseline activity in the clinically heterogeneous study cohort. In addition to alterations in auditory pathways, imaging techniques also indicate the involvement of non-auditory brain areas, such as the fronto-parietal "awareness" network and the non-tinnitus-specific distress network consisting of the anterior cingulate cortex, anterior insula, and amygdale. Involvement of the hippocampus and the parahippocampal region putatively reflects the relevance of memory mechanisms in the persistence of the phantom percept and the associated distress. Preliminary studies targeting the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, and the parietal cortex with rTMS and with transcranial direct current stimulation confirm the relevance of the mentioned non-auditory networks. Available data indicate the important value added by brain stimulation as a complementary approach to neuroimaging for identifying the neuronal correlates of the various clinical aspects of tinnitus.


brain stimulation; chronic tinnitus; neuroimaging; neuromodulation; neuronal correlates

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