Tinnitus is the perception of a 'ringing' sound without an acoustic source. It is generally accepted that tinnitus develops after peripheral hearing loss and is associated with altered auditory processing. The thalamus is a crucial relay in the underlying pathways that actively shapes processing of auditory signals before the respective information reaches the cerebral cortex. Here, we review animal and human evidence to define thalamic function in tinnitus. Overall increased spontaneous firing patterns and altered coherence between the thalamic medial geniculate body (MGB) and auditory cortices is observed in animal models of tinnitus. It is likely that the functional connectivity between the MGB and primary and secondary auditory cortices is reduced in humans. Conversely, there are indications for increased connectivity between the MGB and several areas in the cingulate cortex and posterior cerebellar regions, as well as variability in connectivity between the MGB and frontal areas regarding laterality and orientation in the inferior, medial and superior frontal gyrus. We suggest that these changes affect adaptive sensory gating of temporal and spectral sound features along the auditory pathway, reflecting dysfunction in an extensive thalamo-cortical network implicated in predictive temporal adaptation to the auditory environment. Modulation of temporal characteristics of input signals might hence factor into a thalamo-cortical dysrhythmia profile of tinnitus, but could ultimately also establish new directions for treatment options for persons with tinnitus.
Keywords: MGB; Medial geniculate nucleus; Prediction; Temporal processing; Tinnitus.