Tinnitus May Respond to Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation

Laurie Barclay, MD

December 23, 2002

Dec. 23, 2002 — Tinnitus may be treatable with transcranial magnetic stimulation, according to the results of a small study published in the Annals of Neurology online on Dec. 23. The findings suggest that some phantom sounds are generated by abnormal activity in the brain itself.

"Controlled clinical trials are now necessary to evaluate whether this method can permanently reduce and thus cure tinnitus," senior author Christian Gerloff, MD, from the University of Tuebingen in Germany, says in a news release. "Recently, neuroscientists have brought forward a new concept which postulates similarities between tinnitus and chronic pain. According to this concept, sounds that only the patient can detect might be some sort of 'phantom' auditory perception similar to phantom pain."

Gerloff's group used repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation to interfere temporarily with the activity of auditory association areas in 14 patients with intractable, chronic tinnitus. Stimulation at 10 Hz was applied to eight scalp and four control locations.

Stimulation of the left temporoparietal cortex temporarily reduced tinnitus compared with control ( P<.05) in eight (57%) of the 14 patients during more than one of five stimulations. One patient reported a slight, transient worsening of the tinnitus. Stimulation of other brain regions did not significantly reduce tinnitus in any of the patients.

"Knowing that the [auditory association] areas are functionally relevant for tinnitus makes them a primary target for modern therapeutic approaches based on brain stimulation methods," Gerloff says.

Ann. Neurol. 2003;53:xxx-xxx

Reviewed by Gary D. Vogin, MD