Tinnitus: New Ways to Stop Ringing in Ears

Tinnitus Discovery Could Lead to New Ways to Stop the Ringing: Retraining the Brain Could Reanimate Areas That Have Lost Input from the Ear

Neuroscientists at the University of California, Berkeley, are offering hope to the 10 percent of the population who suffer from tinnitus — a constant, often high-pitched ringing or buzzing in the ears that can be annoying and even maddening, and has no cure.

Their new findings, published online in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggest several new approaches to treatment, including retraining the brain, and new avenues for developing drugs to suppress the ringing.

"This work is the most clearheaded documentation to this point of what’s actually happening in the brain’s cortex in ways that account for the ongoing genesis of sound," said Michael Merzenich, professor emeritus of otolaryngology at UC San Francisco and inventor of the cochlear implant, who was not involved with the research. "As soon as I read the paper, I said, ‘Of course!’ It was immediately obvious that this is almost certainly the true way to think about it."

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People with tinnitus — a constant ringing or buzzing in the ears — can take heart from a new study by neuroscientists that points to several new strategies for alleviating the problem. In experiments on rats, researchers have shown that tinnitus results from decreased inhibition in the auditory cortex. Thus, training that boosts inhibition or drugs that increase the levels of inhibitory neurotransmitter may alleviate the symptoms. (Credit: © Taffi / Fotolia)

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