Auditory prosthesis with a penetrating nerve array

J Assoc Res Otolaryngol. 2007 Jun;8(2):258-79. doi: 10.1007/s10162-007-0070-2. Epub 2007 Jan 30.


Contemporary auditory prostheses ("cochlear implants") employ arrays of stimulating electrodes implanted in the scala tympani of the cochlea. Such arrays have been implanted in some 100,000 profoundly or severely deaf people worldwide and arguably are the most successful of present-day neural prostheses. Nevertheless, most implant users show poor understanding of speech in noisy backgrounds, poor pitch recognition, and poor spatial hearing, even when using bilateral implants. Many of these limitations can be attributed to the remote location of stimulating electrodes relative to excitable cochlear neural elements. That is, a scala tympani electrode array lies within a bony compartment filled with electrically conductive fluid. Moreover, scala tympani arrays typically do not extend to the apical turn of the cochlea in which low frequencies are represented. In the present study, we have tested in an animal model an alternative to the conventional cochlear implant: a multielectrode array implanted directly into the auditory nerve. We monitored the specificity of stimulation of the auditory pathway by recording extracellular unit activity at 32 sites along the tonotopic axis of the inferior colliculus. The results demonstrate the activation of specific auditory nerve populations throughout essentially the entire frequency range that is represented by characteristic frequencies in the inferior colliculus. Compared to conventional scala tympani stimulation, thresholds for neural excitation are as much as 50-fold lower and interference between electrodes stimulated simultaneously is markedly reduced. The results suggest that if an intraneural stimulating array were incorporated into an auditory prosthesis system for humans, it could offer substantial improvement in hearing replacement compared to contemporary cochlear implants.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Animals
  • Cats
  • Cochlear Implants*
  • Cochlear Nerve / physiology*
  • Electric Stimulation
  • Inferior Colliculi / physiology
  • Scala Tympani / physiology