Neural plasticity expressed in central auditory structures with and without tinnitus
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Sensory training therapies for tinnitus are based on the assumption that, notwithstanding neural changes related to tinnitus, auditory training can alter the response properties of neurons in auditory pathways. To assess this assumption, we investigated whether brain changes induced by sensory training in tinnitus sufferers and measured by electroencephalography (EEG) are similar to those induced in age and hearing loss matched individuals without tinnitus trained on the same auditory task. Auditory training was given using a 5 kHz 40-Hz amplitude-modulated (AM) sound that was in the tinnitus frequency region of the tinnitus subjects and enabled extraction of the 40-Hz auditory steady-state response (ASSR) and P2 transient response known to localize to primary and non-primary auditory cortex, respectively. P2 amplitude increased over training sessions equally in participants with tinnitus and in control subjects, suggesting normal remodeling of non-primary auditory regions in tinnitus. However, training-induced changes in the ASSR differed between the tinnitus and control groups. In controls the phase delay between the 40-Hz response and stimulus waveforms reduced by about 10° over training, in agreement with previous results obtained in young normal hearing individuals. However, ASSR phase did not change significantly with training in the tinnitus group, although some participants showed phase shifts resembling controls. On the other hand, ASSR amplitude increased with training in the tinnitus group, whereas in controls this response (which is difficult to remodel in young normal hearing subjects) did not change with training. These results suggest that neural changes related to tinnitus altered how neural plasticity was expressed in the region of primary but not non-primary auditory cortex. Auditory training did not reduce tinnitus loudness although a small effect on the tinnitus spectrum was detected.
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