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Efficacy of Carnitine in Treatment of Tinnitus: Evidence from Audiological and MRI Measures—A Case Study

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Background:

Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, is an extremely common ear disorder. However, it is a phenomenon that is very poorly understood and has limited treatment options.

Purpose:

The goals of this case study were to identify if the antioxidant acetyl-L-carnitine (ALCAR) provides relief from tinnitus, and to identify if subjective satisfaction after carnitine treatment is accompanied by changes in audiological and imaging measures.

Research Design:

Case Study.

Patient Case:

A 41-yr-old female with a history of hearing loss and tinnitus was interested in exploring the benefits of antioxidant therapy in reducing her tinnitus. The patient was evaluated using a standard audiological/tinnitus test battery and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) recordings before carnitine treatment. After her physician's approval, the patient took 500 mg of ALCAR twice a day for 30 consecutive days. The audiological and MRI measures were repeated after ALCAR treatment.

Data Collection and Analysis:

Pure-tone audiometry, tympanometry, distortion-product otoacoustic emissions, tinnitus questionnaires (Tinnitus Handicap Inventory and Tinnitus Reaction Questionnaire), auditory brainstem response, functional MRI (fMRI), functional connectivity MRI, and cerebral blood flow evaluations were conducted before intake of ALCAR and were repeated 30 days after ALCAR treatment.

Results:

The patient’s pretreatment pure-tone audiogram indicated a mild sensorineural hearing loss at 6 kHz in the right ear and 4 kHz in the left ear. Posttreatment evaluation indicated marginal improvement in the patient’s pure-tone thresholds, but was sufficient to be classified as being clinically normal in both ears. Distortion-product otoacoustic emissions results showed increased overall emissions after ALCAR treatment. Subjective report from the patient indicated that her tinnitus was less annoying and barely noticeable during the day after treatment, and the posttreatment tinnitus questionnaire scores supported her statement. Auditory brainstem response peak V amplitude growth between stimulus intensity levels of 40‐80 dB nHL indicated a reduction in growth for the posttreatment condition compared with the pretreatment condition. This was attributed to a possible active gating mechanism involving the auditory brainstem after ALCAR treatment. Posttreatment fMRI recordings in response to acoustic stimuli indicated a statistically significant reduction in brain activity in several regions of the brain, including the auditory cortex. Cerebral blood flow showed increased flow in the auditory cortex after treatment. The functional connectivity MRI indicated increased connectivity between the right and left auditory cortex, but a decrease in connectivity between the auditory cortex and some regions of the “default mode network,” namely the medial prefrontal cortex and posterior cingulate cortex.

Conclusions:

The changes observed in the objective and subjective test measures after ALCAR treatment, along with the patient’s personal observations, indicate that carnitine intake may be a valuable pharmacological option in the treatment of tinnitus.
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Keywords: MRI; Tinnitus; acetyl L-carnitine; antioxidant; cerebral blood flow; functional connectivity; hearing loss

Document Type: Case Report

Publication date: 2015-03-01

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