Annual Tinnitus Research Review 2017. Copyright © British Tinnitus Association 2017. Editors: David Baguley & Nic Wray The editors would like to thank all the contributors for their support and enthusiasm. We would also like to thank the copyright owners of the images and figures reproduced in this publication for their permission to reproduce them either directly or via licence. We believe that all such work has been acknowledged, but please contact Nic Wray on firstname.lastname@example.org if any have been inadvertently omitted. British Tinnitus Association Unit 5 Acorn Business Park Woodseats Close Sheffield S8 0TB www.tinnitus.org.uk email@example.com 0114 250 9933 Registered charity no. 1011145 Company limited by guarantee no. 2709302, registered in England.
T British Tinnitus Association THE NEUROSCIENCE OF TINNITUS: FINDING THE NEEDLE IN THE HAYSTACK DR WILLIAM SEDLEY Training Fellow Institute of Neuroscience, Newcastle University William Sedley is an academic clinical lecturer in neurology based in Newcastle upon Tyne, and divides his time equally between conducting research in human volunteers into tinnitus and related aspects of perception, and practicing as a trainee neurologist. He graduated from Nottingham Medical School in 2007, subsequently joining the research group of Prof. Tim Griffiths, in which he still works today. His research has been funded by the National Institute of Health Research, as part of an integrated academic training pathway for doctors, and by the Medical Research Council for his PhD which he completed in 2015. 10 Annual Tinnitus Research Review 2017 Dr William Sedley Tinnitus tends to occur in people who have a degree of hearing loss, which itself is associated with a wide range of changes in the structure, chemistry and function of many parts of the brain. Many studies on tinnitus to date have compared groups of patients or animals with tinnitus to controls unmatched for hearing levels. These have shown striking differences, but cannot demonstrate which of these simply relate to hearing loss and which, if any, are specific to tinnitus. Fortunately, this issue is now widely recognised, with positive steps being taken to separate correlates of tinnitus from those of hearing loss or other confounds. This summary of new research findings in 2016 begins with those that seem to contradict the results of previous less carefully controlled studies. Next, it highlights key advances in our ability to study tinnitus, on account of greater understanding of its relationship with hearing loss and improved ways of determining whether animals are experiencing tinnitus. Finally, it discusses advances in understanding of how tinnitus relates to changes in the auditory (hearing) pathway and wider parts of the brain. Two steps forward, one step back A popular theory of tinnitus is that hearing loss leads to reduced input to parts of the brain’s hearing pathway, which causes the gain (or ‘volume dial’) to be turned up to compensate. The gain is also turned up on spontaneous firing of brain cells, leading to increased firing rates that result in the perception of sound. Previous work has shown that animals with tinnitus induced by hearing loss do indeed show such increases in nerve firing. However, hearing loss itself is associated with such changes. A new study by Longenecker and Galazyuk  addressed this issue by causing standardised noise damage in sixteen mice, and determining which ones did and did not show evidence of tinnitus. The researchers made the additional advancements of making recordings from the auditory midbrain (an early hearing centre) with the animals awake, and therefore presumably experiencing tinnitus, rather than anaesthetised. They found that all the animals showed increased nerve firing rates, irrespective of tinnitus, and also that another pattern of altered nerve firing previously attributed to tinnitus, called