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PLoS One. 2015 Mar 12;10(3):e0120387. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0120387. eCollection 2015.

Altered inhibitory control and increased sensitivity to cross-modal interference in tinnitus during auditory and visual tasks.

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Institute of Neuroscience (IoNS), Université catholique de Louvain, Brussels, Belgium.
Institute of Neuroscience (IoNS), Université catholique de Louvain, Brussels, Belgium; Department of Oto-Rhino-Laryngology & Head and Neck Surgery, Université catholique de Louvain and clinique universitaire St-Luc, Brussels, Belgium.


Tinnitus is the perception of sound in the absence of external stimulus. Currently, the pathophysiology of tinnitus is not fully understood, but recent studies indicate that alterations in the brain involve non-auditory areas, including the prefrontal cortex. In experiment 1, we used a go/no-go paradigm to evaluate the target detection speed and the inhibitory control in tinnitus participants (TP) and control subjects (CS), both in unimodal and bimodal conditions in the auditory and visual modalities. We also tested whether the sound frequency used for target and distractors affected the performance. We observed that TP were slower and made more false alarms than CS in all unimodal auditory conditions. TP were also slower than CS in the bimodal conditions. In addition, when comparing the response times in bimodal and auditory unimodal conditions, the expected gain in bimodal conditions was present in CS, but not in TP when tinnitus-matched frequency sounds were used as targets. In experiment 2, we tested the sensitivity to cross-modal interference in TP during auditory and visual go/no-go tasks where each stimulus was preceded by an irrelevant pre-stimulus in the untested modality (e.g. high frequency auditory pre-stimulus in visual no/no-go condition). We observed that TP had longer response times than CS and made more false alarms in all conditions. In addition, the highest false alarm rate occurred in TP when tinnitus-matched/high frequency sounds were used as pre-stimulus. We conclude that the inhibitory control is altered in TP and that TP are abnormally sensitive to cross-modal interference, reflecting difficulties to ignore irrelevant stimuli. The fact that the strongest interference effect was caused by tinnitus-like auditory stimulation is consistent with the hypothesis according to which such stimulations generate emotional responses that affect cognitive processing in TP. We postulate that executive functions deficits play a key-role in the perception and maintenance of tinnitus.

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