Auditory-somatosensory bimodal stimulation desynchronizes brain circuitry to reduce tinnitus in guinea pigs and humans
The dorsal cochlear nucleus is the first site of multisensory convergence in mammalian auditory pathways. Principal output neurons, the fusiform cells, integrate auditory nerve inputs from the cochlea with somatosensory inputs from the head and neck. In previous work, we developed a guinea pig model of tinnitus induced by noise exposure and showed that the fusiform cells in these animals exhibited increased spontaneous activity and cross-unit synchrony, which are physiological correlates of tinnitus. We delivered repeated bimodal auditory-somatosensory stimulation to the dorsal cochlear nucleus of guinea pigs with tinnitus, choosing a stimulus interval known to induce long-term depression (LTD). Twenty minutes per day of LTD-inducing bimodal (but not unimodal) stimulation reduced physiological and behavioral evidence of tinnitus in the guinea pigs after 25 days. Next, we applied the same bimodal treatment to 20 human subjects with tinnitus using a double-blinded, sham-controlled, crossover study. Twenty-eight days of LTD-inducing bimodal stimulation reduced tinnitus loudness and intrusiveness. Unimodal auditory stimulation did not deliver either benefit. Bimodal auditory-somatosensory stimulation that induces LTD in the dorsal cochlear nucleus may hold promise for suppressing chronic tinnitus, which reduces quality of life for millions of tinnitus sufferers worldwide.