Spatial channel interactions in cochlear implants
The modern multi-channel cochlear implant is widely considered to be the most successful neural prosthesis owing to its ability to restore partial hearing to post-lingually deafened adults and to allow essentially normal language development in pre-lingually deafened children. However, the implant performance varies greatly in individuals and is still limited in background noise, tonal language understanding, and music perception. One main cause for the individual variability and the limited performance in cochlear implants is spatial channel interaction from the stimulating electrodes to the auditory nerve and brain. Here we systematically examined spatial channel interactions at the physical, physiological, and perceptual levels in the same five modern cochlear implant subjects. The physical interaction was examined using an electric field imaging technique, which measured the voltage distribution as a function of the electrode position in the cochlea in response to the stimulation of a single electrode. The physiological interaction was examined by recording electrically evoked compound action potentials as a function of the electrode position in response to the stimulation of the same single electrode position. The perceptual interactions were characterized by changes in detection threshold as well as loudness summation in response to in-phase or out-of-phase dual-electrode stimulation. To minimize potentially confounding effects of temporal factors on spatial channel interactions, stimulus rates were limited to 100 Hz or less in all measurements. Several quantitative channel interaction indexes were developed to define and compare the width, slope and symmetry of the spatial excitation patterns derived from these physical, physiological and perceptual measures. The electric field imaging data revealed a broad but uniformly asymmetrical intracochlear electric field pattern, with the apical side producing a wider half-width and shallower slope than the basal side. In contrast, the evoked compound action potential and perceptual channel interaction data showed much greater individual variability. It is likely that actual reduction in neural and higher level interactions, instead of simple sharpening of the electric current field, would be the key to predicting and hopefully improving the variable cochlear implant performance. The present results are obtained with auditory prostheses but can be applied to other neural prostheses, in which independent spatial channels, rather than a high stimulation rate, are critical to their performance.
from the Journal of Neural Engineering