Purpose of review: The current understanding of mechanisms of tinnitus generation is continuing to advance. This review is intended to outline new knowledge in the areas of neuroanatomy, physiology, psychophysics, and brain imaging that are revealing novel mechanisms of tinnitus development. Advances in these areas will open new avenues for effective treatment of tinnitus.
Recent findings: Application of high-pulse train electrical stimulation to the cochlea may be effective in restoring the normal pattern of spontaneous activity from the periphery that is interpreted by the auditory brainstem as coding for silence. Clinical and laboratory evidence for a significant interaction between the somatosensory and auditory systems has important implications for understanding and treating tinnitus. Application of principles of neuroplasticity and novel imaging techniques has expanded our understanding of tinnitus through analogous approaches to phantom limb pain. Finally, a novel receptor type recently located in auditory neurovascular structures has opened a new field of study of inflammatory mechanisms contributing to tinnitus.
Summary: Our understanding of the mechanisms that lead to a phantom auditory perception, and the associated debilitating consequences of this sensory experience, is continuing to improve. Tinnitus appears to be significantly affected in complex ways by somatosensory, limbic, and motor influences. Effective treatments will certainly emerge from these new areas of research.