Diffusion Tensor Imaging of Central Auditory Pathways in Patients with Sensorineural Hearing Loss: A Systematic Review

Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2018 Mar;158(3):432-442. doi: 10.1177/0194599817739838. Epub 2017 Nov 7.


Objective The radiologic evaluation of patients with hearing loss includes computed tomography and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to highlight temporal bone and cochlear nerve anatomy. The central auditory pathways are often not studied for routine clinical evaluation. Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) is an emerging MRI-based modality that can reveal microstructural changes in white matter. In this systematic review, we summarize the value of DTI in the detection of structural changes of the central auditory pathways in patients with sensorineural hearing loss. Data Sources PubMed, Embase, and Cochrane. Review Methods We used the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analysis statement checklist for study design. All studies that included at least 1 sensorineural hearing loss patient with DTI outcome data were included. Results After inclusion and exclusion criteria were met, 20 articles were analyzed. Patients with bilateral hearing loss comprised 60.8% of all subjects. Patients with unilateral or progressive hearing loss and tinnitus made up the remaining studies. The auditory cortex and inferior colliculus (IC) were the most commonly studied regions using DTI, and most cases were found to have changes in diffusion metrics, such as fractional anisotropy, compared to normal hearing controls. Detectable changes in other auditory regions were reported, but there was a higher degree of variability. Conclusion White matter changes based on DTI metrics can be seen in patients with sensorineural hearing loss, but studies are few in number with modest sample sizes. Further standardization of DTI using a prospective study design with larger sample sizes is needed.

Keywords: MRI; auditory brainstem; auditory brainstem implant; auditory cortex; cochlear nucleus; diffusion tensor imaging; fractional anisotropy; hearing loss; inferior colliculus; magnetic resonance imaging; tinnitus; tractography.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Auditory Pathways / diagnostic imaging*
  • Diffusion Tensor Imaging / methods*
  • Hearing Loss, Sensorineural / diagnostic imaging*
  • Humans