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The Study of Sound May Create New Insights into Migraine

Researchers in the United Kingdom are examining the brain’s reaction to noise in part to give them more understanding about medical disorders, including migraine, in which people experience hypersensitivity to sound.

A recent study, which appeared in the Journal of Neuroscience, indicates that activity between the amygdala, which processes emotions, and the auditory cortex, which processes sound, is responsible for our feelings about unpleasant sounds.

For this study, conducted by researchers from the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging at University College in London and Newcastle University, 13 volunteers listened to noises while undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging. They rated the sounds they heard, from least pleasant to most pleasant, and researchers studied their brains in response to each of the sounds.

Researchers found that a complex interaction exists between the amygdala and the auditory cortex in which the amygdala—the emotional part of the brain—regulates the auditory cortex, so that unpleasant sounds elicit a heightened response compared to more soothing sounds.

“It appears there is something very primitive kicking in,” said Sukhbinder Kumar, Ph.D., from Newcastle University and one of the paper’s lead authors. “It’s a possible distress signal from the amygdala to the auditory cortex.”

Professor Tim Griffiths, another leader of the study and also from Newcastle University, noted the findings are potentially important for a better understanding of a variety of health problems.

“The work sheds new light on the interaction of the amygdala and the auditory cortex,” he said in a press release. “This might be a new inroad into emotional disorders and disorders like tinnitus and migraine in which there seems to be a heightened perception of the unpleasant aspects of sounds.”

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