Does Chronic tinnitus alter the emotional response function of the amygdala? A sound-evoked fMRI study

Jeff E. Davies*, Phillip E. Gander, Deborah A. Hall

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)
40 Downloads (Pure)


Tinnitus is often associated with strong negative thoughts and emotions which can contribute to a distressing and chronic long-term condition. The amygdala, the "feeling and reacting" part of the brain, may play a key role in this process. Although implicated in several theoretical models of tinnitus, quantification of activity in the human amygdala has only been made possible more recently through neuroimaging methods such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) but benefits from modified scanning parameters using a double-echo acquisition for improved BOLD sensitivity. This study thus examined the role of the amygdala in emotional sound processing in people with tinnitus using a novel double-echo imaging sequence for optimal detectability of subcortical activity. Our hypotheses were: (1) emotionally evocative sound clips rated as pleasant or unpleasant would elicit stronger amygdalar activation than sound clips rated as neutral, (2) people with tinnitus have greater amygdalar activation in response to emotionally evocative sounds (relative to neutral sounds) compared to controls. Methods: Twelve participants all with chronic, constant tinnitus took part. We also recruited 11 age and hearing-matched controls. Participants listened to a range of emotionally evocative sound clips; rated as pleasant, unpleasant or neutral. A region-of-interest analysis was chosen to test our a priori hypotheses. Results: Both groups displayed a robust and similar overall response to sounds vs. silence in the following ascending auditory pathways; inferior colliculus, medial geniculate body and the primary auditory cortex. In support of our first hypothesis, the amygdala's response to pleasant and unpleasant sound clips was significantly greater than neutral sounds. Opposing our second hypothesis, we found that the amygdala's overall response to pleasant and unpleasant sounds (compared to neutral sounds) was actually lower in the tinnitus group as compared to the controls. Conclusions: The "muted" amygdala activation observed in the tinnitus group could reflect an internal modification of emotional response perhaps as a result of successful habituation to emotionally negative sound. This interpretation would predict a heightened amygdala emotional response in individuals with a more clinically bothersome tinnitus.

Original languageEnglish
Article number31
JournalFrontiers in Aging Neuroscience
Publication statusPublished - 21 Feb 2017


  • Amygdala
  • Distress
  • Double echo
  • Emotion
  • FMRI
  • Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI)
  • Tinnitus
  • Valence

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ageing
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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