Tinnitus, sound perception in the absence of physical stimuli, occurs in 15% of the population and is the top-reported disability for soldiers after combat. Noise overexposure is a major factor associated with tinnitus but does not always lead to tinnitus. Furthermore, people with normal audiograms can get tinnitus. In animal models, equivalent cochlear damage occurs in animals with and without behavioral evidence of tinnitus. But cochlear-nerve-recipient neurons in the brainstem demonstrate distinct, synchronized spontaneous firing patterns only in animals that develop tinnitus, driving activity in central brain regions and ultimately giving rise to phantom perception. Examining tinnitus-specific changes in single-cell populations enables us to begin to distinguish neural changes due to tinnitus from those that are due to hearing loss.
Keywords: central auditory pathways; cochlear nucleus; somatosensory-auditory integration; spontaneous firing rate; spontaneous neural synchrony; stimulus-timing-dependent plasticity; tinnitus.
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