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Open Access Research article

Mapping cortical hubs in tinnitus

Winfried Schlee*, Nadia Mueller, Thomas Hartmann, Julian Keil, Isabel Lorenz and Nathan Weisz

Author Affiliations

Department of Psychology, University of Konstanz, 78457 Konstanz, Germany

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BMC Biology 2009, 7:80  doi:10.1186/1741-7007-7-80

Published: 23 November 2009

Abstract

Background

Subjective tinnitus is the perception of a sound in the absence of any physical source. It has been shown that tinnitus is associated with hyperactivity of the auditory cortices. Accompanying this hyperactivity, changes in non-auditory brain structures have also been reported. However, there have been no studies on the long-range information flow between these regions.

Results

Using Magnetoencephalography, we investigated the long-range cortical networks of chronic tinnitus sufferers (n = 23) and healthy controls (n = 24) in the resting state. A beamforming technique was applied to reconstruct the brain activity at source level and the directed functional coupling between all voxels was analyzed by means of Partial Directed Coherence. Within a cortical network, hubs are brain structures that either influence a great number of other brain regions or that are influenced by a great number of other brain regions. By mapping the cortical hubs in tinnitus and controls we report fundamental group differences in the global networks, mainly in the gamma frequency range. The prefrontal cortex, the orbitofrontal cortex and the parieto-occipital region were core structures in this network. The information flow from the global network to the temporal cortex correlated positively with the strength of tinnitus distress.

Conclusion

With the present study we suggest that the hyperactivity of the temporal cortices in tinnitus is integrated in a global network of long-range cortical connectivity. Top-down influence from the global network on the temporal areas relates to the subjective strength of the tinnitus distress.