Effects of mindfulness based stress reduction therapy on subjective bother and neural connectivity in chronic tinnitus

Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2015 May;152(5):919-26. doi: 10.1177/0194599815571556. Epub 2015 Feb 24.


Objective: To evaluate the impact of a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program in patients with chronic bothersome tinnitus on the (1) severity of symptoms of tinnitus and (2) functional connectivity in neural attention networks.

Study design: Open-label interventional pilot study.

Setting: Outpatient academic medical center.

Subjects: A total of 13 adult participants with a median age of 55 years, suffering from bothersome tinnitus.

Methods: An 8-week MBSR program was conducted by a trained MBSR instructor. The primary outcome measure was the difference in patient-reported tinnitus symptoms using the Tinnitus Handicap Index (THI) and Tinnitus Functional Index (TFI) between pre-intervention, post-MBSR, and 4-week post-MBSR assessments. Secondary outcomes included change in measurements of depression, anxiety, mindfulness, and cognitive abilities. Functional connectivity magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) was performed at pre- and post-MBSR intervention time points to serve as a neuroimaging biomarker of critical cortical networks.

Results: Scores on the THI and TFI showed statistically significant and clinically meaningful improvement over the course of the study with a median ΔTHI of -16 and median ΔTFI of -14.8 between baseline and 4-week follow-up scores. Except for depression, there was no significant change in any of the secondary outcome measures. Analysis of the resting state functional connectivity MRI (rs-fcMRI) data showed increased connectivity in the post-MBSR group in attention networks but not the default network.

Conclusion: Participation in an MBSR program is associated with decreased severity in tinnitus symptoms and depression and connectivity changes in neural attention networks. MBSR is a promising treatment option for chronic bothersome tinnitus that is both noninvasive and inexpensive.

Keywords: functional connectivity MRI; neuroplasticity; tinnitus.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Chronic Disease
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mindfulness*
  • Pilot Projects
  • Stress, Psychological / prevention & control*
  • Temporal Lobe / physiopathology*
  • Tinnitus / physiopathology
  • Tinnitus / psychology*