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  • Author or Editor: Dirk De Ridder x
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Dirk De Ridder, Gert De Mulder, Vincent Walsh, Neil Muggleton, Stefan Sunaert and Aage Møller

✓ Tinnitus is a distressing symptom that affects up to 15% of the population for whom no satisfactory treatment exists. The authors present a novel surgical approach for the treatment of intractable tinnitus, based on cortical stimulation of the auditory cortex.

Tinnitus can be considered an auditory phantom phenomenon similar to deafferentation pain, which is observed in the somatosensory system. Tinnitus is accompanied by a change in the tonotopic map of the auditory cortex. Furthermore, there is a highly positive association between the subjective intensity of the tinnitus and the amount of shift in tinnitus frequency in the auditory cortex, that is, the amount of cortical reorganization. This cortical reorganization can be demonstrated by functional magnetic resonance (fMR) imaging.

Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is a noninvasive method of activating or deactivating focal areas of the human brain. Linked to a navigation system that is guided by fMR images of the auditory system, TMS can suppress areas of cortical plasticity. If it is successful in suppressing a patient's tinnitus, this focal and temporary effect can be perpetualized by implanting a cortical electrode.

A neuronavigation-based auditory fMR imaging-guided TMS session was performed in a patient who suffered from tinnitus due to a cochlear nerve lesion. Complete suppression of the tinnitus was obtained. At a later time an extradural electrode was implanted with the guidance of auditory fMR imaging navigation. Postoperatively, the patient's tinnitus disappeared and remains absent 10 months later.

Focal extradural electrical stimulation of the primary auditory cortex at the area of cortical plasticity is capable of suppressing contralateral tinnitus completely. Transcranial magnetic stimulation may be an ideal method for noninvasive studies of surgical candidates in whom stimulating electrodes might be implanted for tinnitus suppression.

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Dirk De Ridder, Sven Vanneste, Silvia Kovacs, Stefan Sunaert, Tomas Menovsky, Paul van de Heyning and Aage Moller

Object

Tinnitus is a prevalent symptom, with clinical, pathophysiological, and treatment features analogous to pain. Noninvasive transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) and intracranial auditory cortex stimulation (ACS) via implanted electrodes into the primary or overlying the secondary auditory cortex have been developed to treat severe cases of intractable tinnitus.

Methods

A series of 43 patients who benefited transiently from 2 separate placebo-controlled TMS sessions underwent implantation of auditory cortex electrodes. Targeting was based on blood oxygen level–dependent activation evoked by tinnitus-matched sound, using functional MR imaging–guided neuronavigation.

Results

Thirty-seven percent of the patients responded to ACS with tonic stimulation. Of the 63% who were nonresponders, half benefited from burst stimulation. In total, 33% remained unaffected by the ACS. The average tinnitus reduction was 53% for the entire group. Burst stimulation was capable of suppressing tinnitus in more patients and was better than tonic stimulation, especially for noise-like tinnitus. For pure tone tinnitus, there were no differences between the 2 stimulation designs. The average pure tone tinnitus improvement was 71% versus 37% for noise-like tinnitus and 29% for a combination of both pure tone and noise-like tinnitus. Transcranial magnetic stimulation did not predict response to ACS, but in ACS responders, a correlation (r = 0.38) between the amount of TMS and ACS existed. A patient's sex, age, or tinnitus duration did not influence treatment outcome.

Conclusions

Intracranial ACS might become a valuable treatment option for severe intractable tinnitus. Better understanding of the pathophysiological mechanisms of tinnitus, predictive functional imaging tests, new stimulation designs, and other stimulation targets are needed to improve ACS results.

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Dirk De Ridder, Elsa van der Loo, Sven Vanneste, Steffen Gais, Mark Plazier, Silvia Kovacs, Stefan Sunaert, Tomas Menovsky and Paul van de Heyning

Tinnitus is considered an auditory phantom percept analogous to phantom pain. Thalamocortical dysrhythmia has been proposed as a possible pathophysiological mechanism for both tinnitus and pain. Thalamocortical dysrhythmia refers to a persistent pathological resting state theta-gamma coupling that is spatially localized at an area where normally alpha oscillations predominate. Auditory cortex stimulation via implanted electrodes has been developed to treat tinnitus, targeting an area of activation on functional MR imaging elicited by tinnitus-matched sound presentation. The authors describe a case in which clinical improvement was correlated with changes in intracranial recordings. Maximal tinnitus suppression was obtained by current delivery exactly at the blood oxygen level–dependent activation hotspot, which colocalizes with increased gamma and theta activity, in contrast to the other electrode poles, which demonstrated a normal alpha peak. These spectral changes normalized when stimulation induced tinnitus suppression, both on electrode and source-localized electroencephalography recordings. These data suggest that thetagamma coupling as proposed by the thalamocortical dysrhythmia model might be causally related to a conscious auditory phantom percept.