When hearing fails, cochlear implants (CIs) provide open speech perception to most of the currently half a million CI users. CIs bypass the defective sensory organ and stimulate the auditory nerve electrically. The major bottleneck of current CIs is the poor coding of spectral information, which results from wide current spread from each electrode contact. As light can be more conveniently confined, optical stimulation of the auditory nerve presents a promising perspective for a fundamental advance of CIs. Moreover, given the improved frequency resolution of optical excitation and its versatility for arbitrary stimulation patterns the approach also bears potential for auditory research. Here, we review the current state of the art focusing on the emerging concept of optogenetic stimulation of the auditory pathway. Developing optogenetic stimulation for auditory research and future CIs requires efforts toward viral gene transfer to the neurons, design and characterization of appropriate optogenetic actuators, as well as engineering of multichannel optical implants.
Copyright © 2019 Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press; all rights reserved.