At the University of Michigan, scientists have developed a non-invasive technology to treat tinnitus, in most sufferers, by training the brain to “desynchronize” and to begin responding properly to real sounds. Their approach involves stimulating touch sensitive nerves using electrodes attached to the skin, while producing sounds, heard through headphones, that coordinate with the electric skin stimulation. This produces so called long-term depression (LTD) in the cochlear nucleus, which led to a reduction in tinnitus symptoms in both guinea pigs and in humans. (Of note, those interested in learning more about how you can tell if a guinea pig has tinnitus can learn about the Gap-prepulse inhibition of the acoustic startle reflex (GPIAS))
The underlying mechanism behind the technology is meant to reduce long-term synchronicity between cells within the brain which happens when they overwork themselves for whatever reason. One overactive cell can transmit a fake signal across many other cells, and that seems to be what is happening inside the brains of many tinnitus sufferers. The University of Michigan’s technology, by using bimodal auditory-somatosensory stimulation, decouples the neural cells so they don’t immediately transmit each other’s signals.
Interestingly, using only one sensory input (sound) without electric stimulation, did nothing for either the guinea pigs studied or volunteer human subjects, demonstrating the complicated neuroplasticity of the brain.
Here’s a short animation describing the U of M’s system followed Susan Shore, the leader of the research, discussing the technology:
Study in Science Translational Medicine: Auditory-somatosensory bimodal stimulation desynchronizes brain circuitry to reduce tinnitus in guinea pigs and humans…