Theoretical Tinnitus Framework: A Neurofunctional Model
Frontiers in Neuroscience
Subjective tinnitus is the conscious (attended) awareness perception of sound in the absence of an external source and can be classified as an auditory phantom perception. Earlier literature establishes three distinct states of conscious perception as unattended, attended, and attended awareness conscious perception. The current tinnitus development models depend on the role of external events congruently paired with the causal physical events that precipitate the phantom perception. We propose
... a novel Neurofunctional Tinnitus Model to indicate that the conscious (attended) awareness perception of phantom sound is essential in activating the cognitive-emotional value. The cognitive-emotional value plays a crucial role in governing attention allocation as well as developing annoyance within tinnitus clinical distress. Structurally, the Neurofunctional Tinnitus Model includes the peripheral auditory system, the thalamus, the limbic system, brainstem, basal ganglia, striatum, and the auditory along with prefrontal cortices. Functionally, we assume the model includes presence of continuous or intermittent abnormal signals at the peripheral auditory system or midbrain auditory paths. Depending on the availability of attentional resources, the signals may or may not be perceived. The cognitive valuation process strengthens the lateral-inhibition and noise canceling mechanisms in the mid-brain, which leads to the cessation of sound perception and renders the signal evaluation irrelevant. However, the "sourceless" sound is eventually perceived and can be cognitively interpreted as suspicious or an indication of a disease in which the cortical top-down processes weaken the noise canceling effects. This results in an increase in cognitive and emotional negative reactions such as depression and anxiety. The negative or positive cognitive-emotional feedbacks within the top-down approach may have no relation to the previous experience of the patients. They can also be associated with aversive stimuli similar to abnormal neural activity in generating the phantom sound. Cognitive and emotional reactions depend on general personality biases toward evaluative conditioning combined with a cognitive-emotional negative appraisal of stimuli such as the case of people with present hypochondria. We acknowledge that the projected Neurofunctional Tinnitus Model does not cover all tinnitus variations and patients. To support our model, we present evidence from several studies using neuroimaging, electrophysiology, brain lesion, and behavioral techniques.