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Abnormal pitch perception produced by cochlear implant stimulation


Contemporary cochlear implants with multiple electrode stimulation can produce good speech perception but poor music perception. Hindered by the lack of a gold standard to quantify electric pitch, relatively little is known about the nature and extent of the electric pitch abnormalities and their impact on cochlear implant performance. Here we overcame this obstacle by comparing acoustic and electric pitch perception in 3 unilateral cochlear-implant subjects who had functionally usable acoustic hearing throughout the audiometric frequency range in the non-implant ear. First, to establish a baseline, we measured and found slightly impaired pure tone frequency discrimination and nearly perfect melody recognition in all 3 subjects' acoustic ear. Second, using pure tones in the acoustic ear to match electric pitch induced by an intra-cochlear electrode, we found that the frequency-electrode function was not only 1-2 octaves lower, but also 2 times more compressed in frequency range than the normal cochlear frequency-place function. Third, we derived frequency difference limens in electric pitch and found that the equivalent electric frequency discrimination was 24 times worse than normal-hearing controls. These 3 abnormalities are likely a result of a combination of broad electric field, distant intra-cochlear electrode placement, and non-uniform spiral ganglion cell distribution and survival, all of which are inherent to the electrode-nerve interface in contemporary cochlear implants. Previous studies emphasized on the "mean" shape of the frequency-electrode function, but the present study indicates that the large "variance" of this function, reflecting poor electric pitch discriminability, is the main factor limiting contemporary cochlear implant performance. © 2014 Zeng et al.

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