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J Assoc Res Otolaryngol. 2012 Dec;13(6):819-33. doi: 10.1007/s10162-012-0344-1. Epub 2012 Aug 7.

Brainstem auditory evoked potentials suggest a role for the ventral cochlear nucleus in tinnitus.

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Eaton-Peabody Laboratory, Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, 243 Charles St., Boston, MA 02114, USA.


Numerous studies have demonstrated elevated spontaneous and sound-evoked brainstem activity in animal models of tinnitus, but data on brainstem function in people with this common clinical condition are sparse. Here, auditory nerve and brainstem function in response to sound was assessed via auditory brainstem responses (ABR) in humans with tinnitus and without. Tinnitus subjects showed reduced wave I amplitude (indicating reduced auditory nerve activity) but enhanced wave V (reflecting elevated input to the inferior colliculi) compared with non-tinnitus subjects matched in age, sex, and pure-tone threshold. The transformation from reduced peripheral activity to central hyperactivity in the tinnitus group was especially apparent in the V/I and III/I amplitude ratios. Compared with a third cohort of younger, non-tinnitus subjects, both tinnitus, and matched, non-tinnitus groups showed elevated thresholds above 4 kHz and reduced wave I amplitude, indicating that the differences between tinnitus and matched non-tinnitus subjects occurred against a backdrop of shared peripheral dysfunction that, while not tinnitus specific, cannot be discounted as a factor in tinnitus development. Animal lesion and human neuroanatomical data combine to indicate that waves III and V in humans reflect activity in a pathway originating in the ventral cochlear nucleus (VCN) and with spherical bushy cells (SBC) in particular. We conclude that the elevated III/I and V/I amplitude ratios in tinnitus subjects reflect disproportionately high activity in the SBC pathway for a given amount of peripheral input. The results imply a role for the VCN in tinnitus and suggest the SBC pathway as a target for tinnitus treatment.

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