Structural neuroimaging of the altered brain stemming from pediatric and adolescent hearing loss-Scientific and clinical challenges

Wiley Interdiscip Rev Syst Biol Med. 2020 Mar;12(2):e1469. doi: 10.1002/wsbm.1469. Epub 2019 Dec 4.


There has been a spurt in structural neuroimaging studies of the effect of hearing loss on the brain. Specifically, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) technologies provide an opportunity to quantify changes in gray and white matter structures at the macroscopic scale. To date, there have been 32 MRI and 23 DTI studies that have analyzed structural differences accruing from pre- or peri-lingual pediatric hearing loss with congenital or early onset etiology and postlingual hearing loss in pre-to-late adolescence. Additionally, there have been 15 prospective clinical structural neuroimaging studies of children and adolescents being evaluated for cochlear implants. The results of the 70 studies are summarized in two figures and three tables. Plastic changes in the brain are seen to be multifocal rather than diffuse, that is, differences are consistent across regions implicated in the hearing, speech and language networks regardless of modes of communication and amplification. Structures in that play an important role in cognition are affected to a lesser extent. A limitation of these studies is the emphasis on volumetric measures and on homogeneous groups of subjects with hearing loss. It is suggested that additional measures of morphometry and connectivity could contribute to a greater understanding of the effect of hearing loss on the brain. Then an interpretation of the observed macroscopic structural differences is given. This is followed by discussion of how structural imaging can be combined with functional imaging to provide biomarkers for longitudinal tracking of amplification. This article is categorized under: Developmental Biology > Developmental Processes in Health and Disease Translational, Genomic, and Systems Medicine > Translational Medicine Laboratory Methods and Technologies > Imaging.

Keywords: brain mapping; computational anatomy; deafened brain; morphometry.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Auditory Pathways / anatomy & histology
  • Auditory Pathways / physiology
  • Brain / anatomy & histology*
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain Mapping
  • Diffusion Tensor Imaging
  • Gray Matter / anatomy & histology
  • Gray Matter / diagnostic imaging
  • Gray Matter / physiology
  • Hearing Loss / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Neuroimaging*
  • White Matter / anatomy & histology
  • White Matter / diagnostic imaging
  • White Matter / physiology