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Deafness alters auditory nerve fibre responses to cochlear implant stimulation


Dr S. J. O'Leary, Department of Otolaryngology, The University of Melbourne, 32 Gisborne Street, East Melbourne, Victoria 3002, Australia.


Here we characterized the relationship between duration of sensorineural hearing loss and the response of the auditory nerve to electrical stimulus rate. Electrophysiological recordings were made from undeafened guinea pigs and those ototoxically deafened for either 5 weeks or 6 months. Auditory neuron survival decreased significantly with the duration of deafness. Extracellular recordings were made from auditory nerve fibres responding to biphasic, charge-balanced current pulses delivered at rates of 20 and 200 pulses/s via a monopolar scala tympani stimulating electrode. The response to 20 pulses/s electrical stimulation of the deafened cochlea exhibited a decrease in spike latency, unaltered temporal jitter and unaltered dynamic range (of nerve firing rate against stimulus current), and a reduction in threshold after 6 months of deafness. The response to a 200-pulse/s stimulus was similar except that the dynamic range was greater than with 20 pulses/s and was also greater in deafened animals than in undeafened animals. Deafness and pulse rate are related; in deaf animals spike recovery appears to be complete between successive stimulus pulses at a low rate (20 pulses/s), but incomplete between pulses at a moderate pulse rate (200 pulses/s). These results suggest that changes in the function of individual auditory nerve fibres after deafness may affect clinical responses during high-rate stimulation such as that used in contemporary speech processing strategies, but not during lower rate stimulation such as that used to record evoked potentials.