Research Highlights

Novel treatment for tinnitus (ringing in the ears).

PI/Investigator:  Mark Mennemeier, Ph.D., Mentor and Core Director; E. Garcia-Rill, Ph.D., COBRE PI.

Institution:  Center for Translational Neuroscience (COBRE), Department of Neurobiology and Developmental Sciences, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Little Rock, AR

Background:  Subjective tinnitus (phantom perception of sound) affects 17% of the general population in the United States, and 25% of all tinnitus patients seek treatment.  Antidepressants and benzodiazepines are most commonly prescribed for tinnitus, but no pharmaceutical is more effective at reducing tinnitus than placebo.  In contrast to pharmacologic treatments for tinnitus, a week-long course of low-frequency, repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (1 Hz rTMS) applied to the auditory cortex can reduce or eliminate tinnitus temporarily in over 50% of patients.  During TMS, a brief, focused magnetic field is created beneath a stimulating coil placed over the scalp.  The magnetic field induces direct electrical stimulation of cortical neurons to a depth of up to 2 cm.

Advance:  Low-frequency rTMS applied to the primary auditory cortex can reduce tinnitus severity, with rTMS optimization yielding the most favorable results.  Beneficial changes occurring in the patient’s slowest reaction times suggest that attentional deficits associated with tinnitus may also respond to low-frequency rTMS.

Support:  Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) Core Facility provided by COBRE award P20 GM104325.

Public Health Impact:  These studies demonstrates the feasibility and safety of using maintenance rTMS to reduce tinnitus chronically. Low-frequency rTMS also had the effect of reducing increased, asymmetric cortical metabolism in areas targeted for treatment. Maintenance rTMS extended this effect, providing a new therapy for an affliction without previous successful treatment.

Citation and links:

Mennemeier M, Chelette KC, Myhill J, Taylor-Cooke P, Bartel T, Triggs W, Kimbrell T, Dornhoffer J. Maintenance repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation can inhibit the return of tinnitus.  Laryngoscope 118: 1228-32, 2008.

Richter GT, Mennemeier M, Bartel T, Chelette KC, Kimbrell T, Triggs W, Dornhoffer JL. Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation for tinnitus: a case study.Laryngoscope 116: 1867-72, 2006.