Fatima Husain, a professor of speech and hearing science, uses MRI to explore the complex ties that bind tinnitus, hearing loss, and blood flow in the brain.
“Tinnitus is the perception of sound when there is no source. … As one patient told me, it can be like a freight train through your head,” Husain said.
In its severest forms, tinnitus can be accompanied by debilitating psychological and behavioral conditions such as depression, anxiety, and difficulty sleeping and concentrating.
Husain used MRI technology to image blood flow in the brains of individuals experiencing tinnitus; hers was the first tinnitus study to use a technique called arterial spin labeling to quantify blood flow.
She observed that patients with tinnitus exhibited reduced blood flow in the brain, with more severe symptoms linked to a lower flow rate. Surprisingly, decreased blood flow was concentrated in brain regions located “nowhere near … the auditory processing regions,” Husain said. Instead, it occurred in a region that becomes activated during periods of rest and quiet.
Proving that a link exists between tinnitus and decreased blood flow in the brain is critical for future treatments and interventions; however, the causal relationship between the two remains a subject for further study.
“Is the decrease in blood flow allowing you to develop tinnitus? Or [does] the fact that you have tinnitus [result] in this decrease in blood flow?” Husain said.
Ultimately, Husain’s goal is to improve cognitive health and quality of life in patients suffering from tinnitus.
The paper titled "Decreased resting perfusion in precuneus and posterior cingulate cortex predicts tinnitus severity" can be accessed online here: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.crneur.2021.100010