An Evaluation of Neurobiological Similarities of Tinnitus and PTSD


Jul 26, 2021

Although tinnitus and PTSD often occur together, they are distinct disorders. Tinnitus is an auditory disorder in which a person “hears” noise—usually as ringing, buzzing, or whooshing sounds— despite no external objective noise source. PTSD is a trauma-related disorder identified by intrusions of the traumatic event via unwanted, recurring memories, avoidance of reminders, negative thoughts and mood, and excessive vigilance for danger.

Similarities between tinnitus and PTSD

Previous studies have documented similarities between tinnitus and PTSD among Cambodian refugees, as well as U.S. veterans. Neuroimaging data from a recent clinical trial indicated that the brain’s auditory-vigilance network was the most dysregulated among active duty service members with PTSD, compared to combat controls and civilian controls. Due to similar symptoms between tinnitus-related distress and PTSD and similar dysregulated resting-state brain networks, it remains important to improve understanding of how these two distinct disorders may be related.

This STRONG STAR-affiliated study led by John Moring, PhD, of The University of Texas Health Science Center at Health San Antonio, is the first to prospectively examine the overt emotional, behavioral, and cognitive symptoms of tinnitus-related distress and PTSD, as well as the overlapping functional connectivity between tinnitus and PTSD within the brain. To do this, investigators will conduct audiometric and psychological assessments and resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) with 120 active duty military and veteran participants. The study will include 30 participants with tinnitus and PTSD, 30 with PTSD only, 30 with tinnitus only, and 30 with neither condition.

Participants will be recruited from the Hearing Center of Excellence and clinics within Wilford Hall Ambulatory Surgical Center, which is located at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland.

Identifying areas of the brain associated with the two conditions

The research team will analyze the symptom overlap between tinnitus and PTSD and will use fMRI to examine the neurobiological factors related to the two conditions, both separately and conjointly. Investigators also will use psychological assessments and data derived from the neuroimaging to identify specific regions of the auditory-vigilance network associated with distress related to tinnitus and PTSD.

Analysis of the shared cognitive, emotional, and behavioral symptoms and neurobiology associated with tinnitus and PTSD will help clinicians and researchers fully understand tinnitus and PTSD independently and conjointly. Results will lead to the identification of neurobiological markers for tinnitus and PTSD, identification of observable characteristics of individuals with both conditions, and development of therapies to reduce distress and impairment.