Residual Inhibition Functions Overlap Tinnitus Spectra and the Region of Auditory Threshold Shift Academic Article uri icon

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  • Animals exposed to noise trauma show augmented synchronous neural activity in tonotopically reorganized primary auditory cortex consequent on hearing loss. Diminished intracortical inhibition in the reorganized region appears to enable synchronous network activity that develops when deafferented neurons begin to respond to input via their lateral connections. In humans with tinnitus accompanied by hearing loss, this process may generate a phantom sound that is perceived in accordance with the location of the affected neurons in the cortical place map. The neural synchrony hypothesis predicts that tinnitus spectra, and heretofore unmeasured "residual inhibition functions" that relate residual tinnitus suppression to the center frequency of masking sounds, should cover the region of hearing loss in the audiogram. We confirmed these predictions in two independent cohorts totaling 90 tinnitus subjects, using computer-based tools designed to assess the psychoacoustic properties of tinnitus. Tinnitus spectra and residual inhibition functions for depth and duration increased with the amount of threshold shift over the region of hearing impairment. Residual inhibition depth was shallower when the masking sounds that were used to induce residual inhibition showed decreased correspondence with the frequency spectrum and bandwidth of the tinnitus. These findings suggest that tinnitus and its suppression in residual inhibition depend on processes that span the region of hearing impairment and not on mechanisms that enhance cortical representations for sound frequencies at the audiometric edge. Hearing thresholds measured in age-matched control subjects without tinnitus implicated hearing loss as a factor in tinnitus, although elevated thresholds alone were not sufficient to cause tinnitus.


  • Roberts, Larry
  • Moffat, Graeme
  • Baumann, Michael
  • Ward, Lawrence M
  • Bosnyak, Daniel J

publication date

  • December 2008