Sensitivity to Interaural Time Differences in the Inferior Colliculus of Cochlear Implanted Rats With or Without Hearing Experience

Research output: Journal Publications and Reviews (RGC: 21, 22, 62)21_Publication in refereed journalpeer-review

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Original languageEnglish
Article number108305
Journal / PublicationHearing Research
Volume408
Online published9 Jul 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2021

Abstract

For deaf patients cochlear implants (CIs) can restore substantial amounts of functional hearing. However, binaural hearing, and in particular, the perception of interaural time differences (ITDs) with current CIs has been found to be notoriously poor, especially in the event of early hearing loss. One popular hypothesis for these deficits posits that a lack of early binaural experience may be a principal cause of poor ITD perception in pre-lingually deaf CI patients. This is supported by previous electrophysiological studies done in neonatally deafened, bilateral CI-stimulated animals showing reduced ITD sensitivity. However, we have recently demonstrated that neonatally deafened CI rats can quickly learn to discriminate microsecond ITDs under optimized stimulation conditions which suggests that the inability of human CI users to make use of ITDs is not due to lack of binaural hearing experience during development. In the study presented here, we characterized ITD sensitivity and tuning of inferior colliculus neurons under bilateral CI stimulation of neonatally deafened and hearing experienced rats. The hearing experienced rats were not deafened prior to implantation. Both cohorts were implanted bilaterally between postnatal days 64-77 and recorded immediately following surgery. Both groups showed comparably large proportions of ITD sensitive multi-units in the inferior colliculus (Deaf: 84.8%, Hearing: 82.5 %), and the strength of ITD tuning, quantified as mutual information between response and stimulus ITD, was independent of hearing experience. However, the shapes of tuning curves differed substantially between both groups. We observed four main clusters of tuning curves – trough, contralateral, central, and ipsilateral tuning. Interestingly, over 90% of multi-units for hearing experienced rats showed predominantly contralateral tuning, whereas as many as 50% of multi-units in neonatally deafened rats were centrally tuned. However, when we computed neural d’ scores to predict likely limits on performance in sound lateralization tasks, we did not find that these differences in tuning shapes predicted worse psychoacoustic performance for the neonatally deafened animals. We conclude that, at least in rats, substantial amounts of highly precise, “innate” ITD sensitivity can be found even after profound hearing loss throughout infancy. However, ITD tuning curve shapes appear to be strongly influenced by auditory experience although substantial lateralization encoding is present even in its absence.

Research Area(s)

  • cochlear implants, binaural hearing, interaural time differences, early onset deafness, electrophysiology, inferior colliculus