Little is known about how outer hair cell loss interacts with noise-induced and age-related auditory nerve degradation (i.e., cochlear synaptopathy) to affect auditory brainstem response (ABR) wave characteristics. Given that listeners with impaired audiograms likely suffer from mixtures of these hearing deficits and that ABR amplitudes have successfully been used to isolate synaptopathy in listeners with normal audiograms, an improved understanding of how different hearing pathologies affect the ABR source generators will improve their sensitivity in hearing diagnostics. We employed a functional model for human ABRs in which different combinations of hearing deficits were simulated and show that high-frequency cochlear gain loss steepens the slope of the ABR Wave-V latency versus intensity and amplitude versus intensity curves. We propose that grouping listeners according to a ratio of these slope metrics (i.e., the ABR growth ratio) might offer a way to factor out the outer hair cell loss deficit and maximally relate individual differences for constant ratios to other peripheral hearing deficits such as cochlear synaptopathy. We compared the model predictions to recorded click-ABRs from 30 participants with normal or high-frequency sloping audiograms and confirm the predicted relationship between the ABR latency growth curve and audiogram slope. Experimental ABR amplitude growth showed large individual differences and was compared with the Wave-I amplitude, Wave-V/I ratio, or the interwaveI-W latency in the same listeners. The model simulations along with the ABR recordings suggest that a hearing loss profile depicting the ABR growth ratio versus the Wave-I amplitude or Wave-V/I ratio might be able to differentiate outer hair cell deficits from cochlear synaptopathy in listeners with mixed pathologies.
Keywords: auditory brainstem responses; cochlear neuropathy; cochlear synaptopathy; diagnostics; hearing loss; hidden hearing loss.
© The Author(s) 2016.