Berkeley 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 last week 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."
Merzenich is also chief scientific officer at Posit Science, which develops software to retrain the brain, primarily to improve learning and memory but more recently to address problems like schizophrenia, Alzheimer's Disease and tinnitus.
"Two million Americans are debilitated by tinnitus; they can't work, they can't sleep. Its life destroying and a substantial cause of suicide," he said. "These experiments have led us to rethink how we attack the tinnitus by our training strategies."
Loud noises kill hair cells
According to coauthor Shaowen Bao, adjunct assistant professor in the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute at UC Berkeley, tinnitus pronounced TIN-it-tus or tin-NIGHT-us is most commonly caused by hearing loss. Sustained loud noises, as from machinery or music, as well as some drugs can damage the hair cells in the inner ear that detect sounds. Because each hair cell is tuned to a different frequency, damaged or lo
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