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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Abnormal resting-state cortical coupling in chronic tinnitus

Winfried Schlee1*, Thomas Hartmann1, Berthold Langguth2 and Nathan Weisz1

Author Affiliations

1 University of Konstanz, Konstanz, Department of Psychology, Germany

2 University of Regensburg, Regensburg, Department of Psychiatry, Bezirksklinikum Regensburg, Germany

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BMC Neuroscience 2009, 10:11  doi:10.1186/1471-2202-10-11

Published: 19 February 2009

Abstract

Background

Subjective tinnitus is characterized by an auditory phantom perception in the absence of any physical sound source. Consequently, in a quiet environment, tinnitus patients differ from control participants because they constantly perceive a sound whereas controls do not. We hypothesized that this difference is expressed by differential activation of distributed cortical networks.

Results

The analysis was based on a sample of 41 participants: 21 patients with chronic tinnitus and 20 healthy control participants. To investigate the architecture of these networks, we used phase locking analysis in the 1–90 Hz frequency range of a minute of resting-state MEG recording. We found: 1) For tinnitus patients: A significant decrease of inter-areal coupling in the alpha (9–12 Hz) band and an increase of inter-areal coupling in the 48–54 Hz gamma frequency range relative to the control group. 2) For both groups: an inverse relationship (r = -.71) of the alpha and gamma network coupling. 3) A discrimination of 83% between the patient and the control group based on the alpha and gamma networks. 4) An effect of manifestation on the distribution of the gamma network: In patients with a tinnitus history of less than 4 years, the left temporal cortex was predominant in the gamma network whereas in patients with tinnitus duration of more than 4 years, the gamma network was more widely distributed including more frontal and parietal regions.

Conclusion

In the here presented data set we found strong support for an alteration of long-range coupling in tinnitus. Long-range coupling in the alpha frequency band was decreased for tinnitus patients while long-range gamma coupling was increased. These changes discriminate well between tinnitus and control participants. We propose a tinnitus model that integrates this finding in the current knowledge about tinnitus. Furthermore we discuss the impact of this finding to tinnitus therapies using Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS).