Permanent high frequency (>4 kHz) sensorineural hearing loss following middle ear surgery occurs in up to 25% of patients. The aetiology of this loss is poorly understood and may involve transmission of supra-physiological forces down the ossicular chain to the cochlea. Investigating the mechanisms of this injury using animal models is challenging, as evaluating cochlear function with evoked potentials is confounded when ossicular manipulation disrupts the normal air conduction (AC) pathway. Bone conduction (BC) using clinical bone vibrators in small animals is limited by poor transducer output at high frequencies sensitive to trauma. The objectives of the present study were firstly to evaluate a novel high frequency bone conduction transducer with evoked auditory potentials in a guinea pig model, and secondly to use this model to investigate the impact of middle ear surgical manipulation on cochlear function. We modified a magnetostrictive device as a high frequency BC transducer and evaluated its performance by comparison with a calibrated AC transducer at frequencies up to 32 kHz using the auditory brainstem response (ABR), compound action potential (CAP) and summating potential (SP). To mimic a middle ear traumatising stimulus, a rotating bur was brought in to contact with the incudomalleal complex and the effect on evoked cochlear potentials was observed. BC-evoked potentials followed the same input–output function pattern as AC potentials for all ABR frequencies. Deterioration in CAP and SP thresholds was observed after ossicular manipulation. It is possible to use high frequency BC to evoke responses from the injury sensitive basal region of the cochlea and so not rely on AC with the potential confounder of conductive hearing loss. Ongoing research explores how these findings evolve over time, and ways in which injury may be reduced and the cochlea protected during middle ear surgery.
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