Objectives: Monopolar stimulation of the most apical electrode produces the lowest pitch sensation in cochlear implants clinically. A phantom electrode that uses out-of-phase electrical stimulation between the most apical and the neighboring basal electrode can produce a lower pitch sensation than that associated with the most apical electrode. However, because of the absence of contacts beyond the apical tip of the array, the ability to assess the spread of electrical excitation associated with phantom stimulation is limited in the typical cochlear implant subject with no residual hearing. In the present study, the spread of electrical excitation associated with monopolar and phantom stimulation of the most apical electrode was assessed using electrical masking of acoustic thresholds in cochlear implant subjects with residual, low-frequency, acoustic hearing.
Design: Eight subjects with an Advanced Bionics cochlear implant and residual hearing in the implanted ear participated in this study (nine ears in total). Unmasked and masked thresholds for acoustic pure tones were measured at 125, 250, 500, 750, 1000, and 2000 Hz in the presence of monopolar and phantom electrode stimulation presented at the apical-most end of the array. The current compensation for phantom electrode stimulation was fixed at 50%. The two electrical maskers were loudness balanced. Differences between the unmasked and masked acoustic thresholds can be attributed to (1) the electrical stimulus-induced interference in the transduction/conduction of the acoustic signal through cochlear periphery and the auditory nerve and/or (2) masking at the level of the central auditory system.
Results: The results show a significant elevation in pure-tone thresholds in the presence of the monopolar and phantom electrical maskers. The unmasked thresholds were subtracted from the masked thresholds to derive masking patterns as a function of the acoustic probe frequency. The masking patterns show that phantom stimulation was able to produce more masking than that associated with the monopolar stimulation of the most apical electrode.
Conclusion: These results suggest that for some cochlear implant subjects, phantom electrode stimulation can shift the neural stimulation pattern more apically in the cochlea, which is consistent with reports that phantom electrode stimulation produces lower pitch sensations than those associated with monopolar stimulation of the most apical electrode alone.
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