Symptom dimensions to address heterogeneity in tinnitus
Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2022 Mar;134:104542. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2022.104542. Epub 2022 Jan 17.
Tinnitus, the auditory phantom percept, is a well-known heterogenous disorder with multiple subtypes. Researchers and clinicians have tried to classify these subtypes according to clinical profiles, aetiologies, and response to treatment with little success. The occurrence of overlapping tinnitus subtypes suggests that the disorder exists along a continuum of severity, with no clear distinct boundaries. In this perspective, we propose a neuro-mechanical framework, viewing tinnitus as a dimensional disorder which is a complex interplay of its behavioural, biological and neurophysiological phenotypes. Moreover, we explore the potential of these dimensions as interacting networks without a common existing cause, giving rise to tinnitus. Considering tinnitus as partially overlapping, dynamically changing, interacting networks, each representing a different aspect of the unified tinnitus percept, suggests that the interaction of these networks determines the phenomenology of the tinnitus, ultimately leading to a dimensional spectrum, rather than a categorical subtyping. A combination of a robust theoretical framework and strong empirical evidence can advance our understanding of the functional mechanisms underlying tinnitus and ultimately, improve treatment strategies.