Development of tinnitus: Which neurophysiological processes take place when tinnitus emerges? Can specific brain states inhibit the emergence of tinnitus?

Human tinnitus research typically concentrates on the investigation of neuronal activity in patients, not developing, but suffering from chronic tinnitus for many years. Models on tinnitus development are mainly based on animal research and postulate a direct relationship between hearing loss and neuroplastic changes causing tinnitus. However these models cannot answer crucial questions:  Why, for instance, are there people who suffer from hearing loss but don’t experience tinnitus? Or why is no hearing loss detectable in about 10 % of tinnitus patients? (Shore et al. 2016).

We want to address these questions systematically by investigating development of tinnitus in three different settings. In the first setting, we will study tinnitus development in patients undergoing surgery for removal of a vestibular schwannoma. In cases in whom this tumour is operated, surgery often results in substantial or complete hearing loss in the affected ear and leads to new onset of tinnitus in about 15% of the patients (Baguley 2002, Chovanec et al. 2015). In the second setting, we compare neuronal activity before and after exposure to loud music eliciting acute tinnitus sensation (Ortmann et al. 2011), while we use the so-called earplugging method (Schaette et al. 2012) to induce acute tinnitus in the third setting. Similar to the studies in normal-hearing participants we will focus on auditory and, importantly also on non-auditory processes influencing tinnitus sensation. A special focus will be on the identification of neuronal conditions pointing to a vulnerability for the development of tinnitus.

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