More on the Michigan Research
We’ve posted on it before, but this particular research is exciting because it offers a possible avenue for treatment.
Susan Shore, the senior author of the paper, explains that her team has confirmed that a process called stimulus-timing dependent multisensory plasticity is altered in animals with tinnitus – and that this plasticity is “exquisitely sensitive” to the timing of signals coming in to a key area of the brain.
That area, called the dorsal cochlear nucleus, is the first station for signals arriving in the brain from the ear via the auditory nerve. But it’s also a center where “multitasking” neurons integrate other sensory signals, such as touch, together with the hearing information.
Shore, who leads a lab in U-M’s Kresge Hearing Research Institute, is a professor of Otolaryngology and Molecular and Integrative Physiology at the U-M Medical School, and also professor of Biomedical Engineering, which spans the Medical School and College of Engineering.
She explains that in tinnitus, some of the input to the brain from the ear’s cochlea is reduced, while signals from the somatosensory nerves of the face and neck, related to touch, are excessively amplified.
“It’s as if the signals are compensating for the lost auditory input, but they overcompensate and end up making everything noisy,” says Shore.
With this theoretical underpinning, the team is already working on developing a device that could be used to treat tinnitus.
What I find promising about this approach is that it’s centred in a physiological understanding of tinnitus – a targeted approach that’s built on a detailed understanding of how the brain’s physiology goes wrong. While a medical implant isn’t ideal, it’s definitely a huge step forward (provided that subsequent trials show that it has efficacy, which of course is a huge IF at this point).
Keep your heads up – science is making real progress.