Although performance with bilateral cochlear implants is superior to that with a unilateral implant, bilateral implantees have poor performance in sound localisation and in speech discrimination in noise compared to normal hearing subjects. Studies of the neural processing of interaural time differences (ITDs) in the inferior colliculus (IC) of long-term deaf animals, show substantial degradation compared to that in normal hearing animals. It is not known whether this degradation can be ameliorated by chronic cochlear electrical stimulation, but such amelioration is unlikely to be achieved using current clinical speech processors and cochlear implants, which do not provide good ITD cues. We therefore developed a custom sound processor to deliver salient ITDs for chronic bilateral intra-cochlear electrical stimulation in a cat model of neonatal deafness, to determine if long-term exposure to salient ITDs would prevent degradation of ITD processing. We compared the sensitivity to ITDs in cochlear electrical stimuli of neurons in the IC of cats chronically stimulated with our custom ITD-aware sound processor with sensitivity in acutely deafened cats with normal hearing development and in cats chronically stimulated with a clinical stimulator and sound processor. Animals that experienced stimulation with our custom ITD-aware sound processor had significantly higher neural sensitivity to ITDs than those that received stimulation from clinical sound processors. There was no significant difference between animals received no stimulation and those that received stimulation from clinical sound processors, consistent with findings from clinical cochlear implant users. This result suggests that development and use of clinical ITD-aware sound processing strategies from a young age may promote ITD sensitivity in the clinical population.
Keywords: Cochlear implant; Inferior colliculus; Interaural time difference.
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