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J Neurophysiol. 2000 Apr;83(4):2145-62.

Electrical cochlear stimulation in the deaf cat: comparisons between psychophysical and central auditory neuronal thresholds.

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Department of Otolaryngology, University of California, San Francisco, California 94143-0732, USA.


Cochlear prostheses for electrical stimulation of the auditory nerve ("electrical hearing") can provide auditory capacity for profoundly deaf adults and children, including in many cases a restored ability to perceive speech without visual cues. A fundamental challenge in auditory neuroscience is to understand the neural and perceptual mechanisms that make rehabilitation of hearing possible in these deaf humans. We have developed a feline behavioral model that allows us to study behavioral and physiological variables in the same deaf animals. Cats deafened by injection of ototoxic antibiotics were implanted with either a monopolar round window electrode or a multichannel scala tympani electrode array. To evaluate the effects of perceptually significant electrical stimulation of the auditory nerve on the central auditory system, an animal was trained to avoid a mild electrocutaneous shock when biphasic current pulses (0.2 ms/phase) were delivered to its implanted cochlea. Psychophysical detection thresholds and electrical auditory brain stem response (EABR) thresholds were estimated in each cat. At the conclusion of behavioral testing, acute physiological experiments were conducted, and threshold responses were recorded for single neurons and multineuronal clusters in the central nucleus of the inferior colliculus (ICC) and the primary auditory cortex (A1). Behavioral and neurophysiological thresholds were evaluated with reference to cochlear histopathology in the same deaf cats. The results of the present study include: 1) in the cats implanted with a scala tympani electrode array, the lowest ICC and A1 neural thresholds were virtually identical to the behavioral thresholds for intracochlear bipolar stimulation; 2) behavioral thresholds were lower than ICC and A1 neural thresholds in each of the cats implanted with a monopolar round window electrode; 3) EABR thresholds were higher than behavioral thresholds in all of the cats (mean difference = 6.5 dB); and 4) the cumulative number of action potentials for a sample of ICC neurons increased monotonically as a function of the amplitude and the number of stimulating biphasic pulses. This physiological result suggests that the output from the ICC may be integrated spatially across neurons and temporally integrated across pulses when the auditory nerve array is stimulated with a train of biphasic current pulses. Because behavioral thresholds were lower and reaction times were faster at a pulse rate of 30 pps compared with a pulse rate of 2 pps, spatial-temporal integration in the central auditory system was presumably reflected in psychophysical performance.

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