Objective: Maturation of acoustically evoked brainstem responses (ABR) in hearing children is not complete at birth but rather continues over the first two years of life. In particular, it has been established that the decrease in ABR wave V latency can be modeled as the sum of two decaying exponential functions with respective time-constants of 4 and 50 weeks [Eggermont, J.J., Salamy, A., 1988a. Maturational time-course for the ABR in preterm and full term infants. Hear Res 33, 35-47; Eggermont, J.J., Salamy, A., 1988b. Development of ABR parameters in a preterm and a term born population. Ear Hear 9, 283-9]. Here, we investigated the maturation of electrically evoked auditory brainstem responses (EABR) in 55 deaf children who recovered hearing after cochlear implantation, and proposed a predictive model of EABR maturation depending on the onset of deafness. The pattern of EABR maturation over the first 2 years of cochlear implant use was compared with the normal pattern of ABR maturation in hearing children. Methods: Changes in EABR wave V latency over the 2 years following cochlear implant connection were analyzed in two groups of children. The first group (n = 41) consisted of children with early-onset of deafness (mostly congenital), and the second (n = 14) of children who had become profoundly deaf after 1 year of age. The modeling of changes in EABR wave V latency with time was based on the mean values from each of the two groups, allowing comparison of the rates of EABR maturation between groups. Differences between EABRs elicited at the basal and apical ends of the implant electrode array were also tested. Results: There was no influence of age at implantation on the rate of wave V latency change. The main factor for EABR changes was the time in sound. Indeed, significant maturation was observed over the first 2 years of implant use only in the group with early-onset deafness. In this group maturation of wave V progressed as in the ABR model of [Eggermont, J.J., Salamy, A., 1988a. Maturational time-course for the ABR in preterm and full term infants. Hear Res 33, 35-47; Eggermont, J.J., Salamy, A., 1988b. Development of ABR parameters in a preterm and a term born population. Ear Hear 9, 283-9] of normal hearing children: a sum of two decaying exponential functions, one showing an early rapid decrease in latency and the other a slower decrease. Remarkably, the time-constants fell well within the ranges described by Eggermont and Salamy (i.e., 3.9 and 68 weeks), consistent with the time-course of the neurophysiological mechanisms presumably involved in auditory pathway maturation during the first 2 years of life: i.e., myelination and increased synaptic efficacy. In contrast, relatively little change in wave V was evident in children with late-onset deafness. In agreement with the notion that EABR maturation follows an apex-to-base gradient as described for ABR, we observed that wave V latencies were longer for the basal than the apical end of the implant electrode array and remained so throughout the study period, whatever the time of onset of deafness. Conclusions: The findings in the early-onset of deafness group support the theory that auditory pathways remain "frozen" during the period of sensory deprivation until cochlear implant rehabilitation restores the normal chronology of maturational processes. In children with late-onset deafness, however, some maturational processes may occur before the onset of deafness, and thus less additional maturation is required during the first two years of implant use resulting in no significant EABR latency changes being observed in this period. The results suggest that the rehabilitation-induced plasticity of the auditory pathways is, in case of late auditory deprivation, unlikely to result in neurophysiological outcomes similar to those observed in children with early auditory deprivation. Significance: Changes in EABR wave V latency over the first 2 years of cochlear implant use were found to be well fitted by the sum of two decaying exponential functions in children with early-onset deafness. This is in line with the maturation of ABR wave V latency in normal-hearing children over the first two years of life. Further studies are needed to assess whether the differences observed in terms of auditory pathways maturation are associated with consistent differences in terms of language development. © 2006 International Federation of Clinical Neurophysiology.
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