Ringing ears: the neuroscience of tinnitus

J Neurosci. 2010 Nov 10;30(45):14972-9. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.4028-10.2010.


Tinnitus is a phantom sound (ringing of the ears) that affects quality of life for millions around the world and is associated in most cases with hearing impairment. This symposium will consider evidence that deafferentation of tonotopically organized central auditory structures leads to increased neuron spontaneous firing rates and neural synchrony in the hearing loss region. This region covers the frequency spectrum of tinnitus sounds, which are optimally suppressed following exposure to band-limited noise covering the same frequencies. Cross-modal compensations in subcortical structures may contribute to tinnitus and its modulation by jaw-clenching and eye movements. Yet many older individuals with impaired hearing do not have tinnitus, possibly because age-related changes in inhibitory circuits are better preserved. A brain network involving limbic and other nonauditory regions is active in tinnitus and may be driven when spectrotemporal information conveyed by the damaged ear does not match that predicted by central auditory processing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Auditory Pathways / physiopathology*
  • Auditory Perception / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Noise
  • Tinnitus / etiology*
  • Tinnitus / physiopathology