A significant proportion of the population suffers from tinnitus, a bothersome auditory phantom perception that can severely alter the quality of life. Numerous experimental studies suggests that a maladaptive plasticity of the auditory and limbic cortical areas may underlie tinnitus. Accordingly, repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) has been repeatedly used with success to reduce tinnitus intensity. The potential of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), another promising method of noninvasive brain stimulation, to relieve tinnitus has not been explored systematically. In a double-blind, placebo-controlled and balanced order design, 20 patients suffering from chronic untreatable tinnitus were submitted to 20 minutes of 1 mA anodal, cathodal and sham tDCS targeting the left temporoparietal area. The primary outcome measure was a change in tinnitus intensity or discomfort assessed with a Visual Analogic Scale (VAS) change-scale immediately after tDCS and 1 hour later. Compared to sham tDCS, anodal tDCS significantly reduced tinnitus intensity immediately after stimulation; whereas cathodal tDCS failed to do so. The variances of the tinnitus intensity and discomfort VAS change-scales increased dramatically after anodal and cathodal tDCS, whereas they remained virtually unchanged after sham tDCS. Moreover, several patients unexpectedly reported longer-lasting effects (at least several days) such as tinnitus improvement, worsening, or changes in tinnitus features, more frequently after real than sham tDCS. Anodal tDCS is a promising therapeutic tool for modulating tinnitus perception. Moreover, both anodal and cathodal tDCS seem able to alter tinnitus perception and could, thus, be used to trigger plastic changes.
- Brain plasticity
- Noninvasive brain stimulation
- Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation
- Transcranial direct current stimulation