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Overactive nerves in head and neck may account for 'ringing in the ears'
Date:1/10/2008

people, oddly enough, find that if they clench the jaw or press on the face or neck, they can temporarily stop tinnitus, or in some cases bring it on. To understand tinnitus and its strange link to touch sensations, Shore and her research team have conducted a series of studies in guinea pigs, measuring nerve activity in a part of the brain called the dorsal cochlear nucleus that processes auditory and other signals.

In normal hearing, the dorsal cochlear nucleus is the first stop in the brain for sound signals arriving from the ear via the auditory nerve. Its also a hub where multitasking neurons process sensory signals from other parts of the brain.

In this study, we showed that when there is a hearing loss, other parts of the brain that normally convey signals to the cochlear nucleus have an enhanced effect, says Shore, who is also an associate professor in the Department of Molecular and Integrative Physiology at the U-M Medical School.

When you take one source of excitation away, another source comes in to make up for it. The somatosensory system is coming in, but may overcompensate and help cause tinnitis, she says.

The somatosensory system is a nerve network in the body that provides information to the brain about touch, vibration, skin temperature and pain. The part of the system that provides sensations from the face and head, called the trigeminal system, brings signals to the cochlear nucleus that help us hear and speak.

But when people experience hearing loss or some other event, such as having a cavity filled or a tooth implanted, these neurons from the face and head can respond like overly helpful relatives in a family crisis. The resulting neuron firings in the cochlear nucleus, like too many phone calls, create the din of tinnitus, a phantom sound produced in the brain.

In the study, Shore and the papers second author Seth Koehler, a U-M Ph.D. student in the U-M departments of Otolaryngology an
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Contact: Anne Rueter
arueter@umich.edu
734-764-2220
University of Michigan Health System
Source:Eurekalert  

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