Animal research has shown that loss of normal acoustic stimulation can increase spontaneous firing in the central auditory system and induce cortical map plasticity. Enriched acoustic environment after noise trauma prevents map plasticity and abolishes neural signs of tinnitus. In humans, the tinnitus spectrum overlaps with the area of hearing loss. Based on these findings it can be hypothesized that stimulating the auditory system by presenting music compensating specifically for the hearing loss might also suppress chronic tinnitus. To verify this hypothesis, a study was conducted in three groups of tinnitus patients. One group listened just to unmodified music (i.e. active control group), one group listened to music spectrally tailored to compensate for their hearing loss, and a third group received music tailored to overcompensate for their hearing loss, associated with one (in presbycusis) or two notches (in audiometric dip) at the edge of hearing loss. Our data indicate that applying overcompensation to the hearing loss worsens the patients' tinnitus loudness, the tinnitus annoyance and their depressive feelings. No significant effects were obtained for the control group or for the compensation group. These clinical findings were associated with an increase in current density within the left dorsal anterior cingulate cortex in the alpha2 frequency band and within the left pregenual anterior cingulate cortex in beta1 and beta2 frequency band. In addition, a region of interest analysis also demonstrated an associated increase in gamma band activity in the auditory cortex after overcompensation in comparison to baseline measurements. This was, however, not the case for the control or the compensation groups. In conclusion, music therapy compensating for hearing loss is not beneficial in suppressing tinnitus, and overcompensating hearing loss actually worsens tinnitus, both clinically and electrophysiologically.
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