Coding of sounds in the auditory system and its relevance to signal processing and coding in cochlear implants

Otol Neurotol. 2003 Mar;24(2):243-54. doi: 10.1097/00129492-200303000-00019.


Objective: To review how the properties of sounds are "coded" in the normal auditory system and to discuss the extent to which cochlear implants can and do represent these codes.

Data sources: Data are taken from published studies of the response of the cochlea and auditory nerve to simple and complex stimuli, in both the normal and the electrically stimulated ear. REVIEW CONTENT: The review describes: 1) the coding in the normal auditory system of overall level (which partly determines perceived loudness), spectral shape (which partly determines perceived timbre and the identity of speech sounds), periodicity (which partly determines pitch), and sound location; 2) the role of the active mechanism in the cochlea, and particularly the fast-acting compression associated with that mechanism; 3) the neural response patterns evoked by cochlear implants; and 4) how the response patterns evoked by implants differ from those observed in the normal auditory system in response to sound. A series of specific issues is then discussed, including: 1) how to compensate for the loss of cochlear compression; 2) the effective number of independent channels in a normal ear and in cochlear implantees; 3) the importance of independence of responses across neurons; 4) the stochastic nature of normal neural responses; 5) the possible role of across-channel coincidence detection; and 6) potential benefits of binaural implantation.

Conclusions: Current cochlear implants do not adequately reproduce several aspects of the neural coding of sound in the normal auditory system. Improved electrode arrays and coding systems may lead to improved coding and, it is hoped, to better performance.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cochlea / physiology
  • Cochlear Implantation / instrumentation*
  • Cochlear Nerve / physiology
  • Hair Cells, Auditory / physiology
  • Humans
  • Loudness Perception / physiology
  • Pitch Perception / physiology
  • Sound*
  • Speech Perception / physiology*