Cochlear implant electrode configuration effects on activation threshold and tonotopic selectivity

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The multichannel design of contemporary cochlear implants (CIs) is predicated on the assumption that each channel activates a relatively restricted and independent sector of the deaf auditory nerve array, just as a sound within a restricted frequency band activates a restricted region of the normal cochlea The independence of CI channels, however, is limited; and the factors that determine their independence, the relative overlap of the activity patterns that they evoke, are poorly understood. In this study, we evaluate the spread of activity evoked by cochlear implant channels by monitoring activity at 16 sites along the tonotopic axis of the guinea pig inferior colliculus (IC). “Spatial tuning curves” (STCs) measured in this way serve as an estimate of activation spread within the cochlea and the ascending auditory pathways. We contrast natural stimulation using acoustic tones with two kinds of electrical stimulation either (1) a loose fitting banded array consisting of a cylindrical silicone elastomer carrier with a linear series of ring contacts; or (2) a space-filling array consisting of a tapered silicone elastomer carrier that is designed to fit snugly into the guinea pig scala tympani with a linear series of ball contacts positioned along it Spatial tuning curves evoked by individual acoustic tones, and by activation of each contact of each array as a monopole, bipole or tripole were recorded. Several channel configurations and a wide range of electrode separations were tested for each array, and their thresholds and selectivity were estimated.The results indicate that the tapered space-filling arrays evoked more restricted activity patterns at lower thresholds than did the banded arrays. Monopolar stimulation (one intracochlear contact activated with an extracochlear return) using either array evoked broad activation patterns that involved the entire recording array at current levels <6 dB SL, but at relatively low thresholds. Bi- and tri-polar configurations of both array types evoked more restricted activity patterns, but their thresholds were higher than those of monopolar configurations. Bipolar and tripolar configurations with closely spaced contacts evoked activity patterns that were comparable to those evoked by pure tones. As the spacing of bipolar electrodes was increased (separations >1 mm), the activity patterns became broader and evoked patterns with two distinct threshold minima, one associated with each contact.

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