Australian researchers say they have identified a new brain region, the ventral subdivision of the cochlear nucleus, as a possible factor behind tinnitus.
Tinnitus is a potentially debilitating disorder of hearing which is characterised by the perception of non-existent sounds, usually roaring, hissing or ringing in the ears.
The changes in the brain that cause tinnitus are poorly understood. It is clear however that alterations in nerve cell electrical behaviour must underlie the abnormal "phantom" perception of sound that is experienced by tinnitus sufferers.
For many years, the exact site in the brain where this abnormal nerve cell behaviour occurs has been a contentious issue.
The University of Western Australia point out that the ventral region has not been investigated much in retlation to tinnitus.
The nerve cell types and the chemistry of the neural circuitry in this part of the brain differ subtly from those other parts of the brain previously thought to be involved. This means the results published in The Journal of Neuroscience
could be potentially important for the future development of drug treatments.
The research, performed by student Darryl Vogler, Professor Donald Robertson and Associate Professor Wilhelmina Mulders, has developed a reliable animal model which can induce tinnitus and also measure brain cell activity.
"This is an important step toward further research in this area," Associate Professor Mulders said.
"If we can establish a direct link between this increased brain cell activity and tinnitus we may be able to move a step closer to finding a way to treat tinnitus."
The paper titled Hyperactivity in the Ventral Cochlear Nucleus after Cochlear Trauma concludes that hyperactivity in this part of the brainstem therefore needs to be considered in relation to further neural research into tinnitus.