Unilateral deafness has a high incidence in children. In addition to children who are born without hearing in one ear, children with bilateral deafness are frequently equipped only with one cochlear implant, leaving the other ear deaf. The present study investigates the effects of such single-sided deafness during development in the congenitally deaf cat. The investigated animals were either born with unilateral deafness or received a cochlear implant in one ear and were subjected to chronic monaural stimulation. In chronically stimulated animals, implantation ages were at the following three critical developmental points: 'early' during the peak of functional cortical synaptogenesis in deaf animals; 'intermediate' at the age when synaptic activity in the deaf cats dropped to the level of hearing control cats and finally, 'late' at the age when the evoked synaptic activity fell below the level of hearing control cats. After periods of unilateral hearing, local field potentials were recorded from the cortical surface using a microelectrode at ∼100 recording positions. Stimulation was with cochlear implants at both ears. The measures evaluated were dependent only on the symmetry of aural input: paired differences of onset latencies and paired relations of peak amplitudes of local field potentials. A massive reorganization of aural preference in favour of the hearing ear was found in these measures if the onset of unilateral hearing was early (before or around the peak of functional synaptogenesis). The effect was reduced if onset of unilateral hearing was in the intermediate period, and it disappeared if the onset was late. In early onset of unilateral deafness, the used ear became functionally dominant with respect to local field potential onset latency and amplitude. This explains the inferior outcome of implantations at the second-implanted ear compared with first-implanted ear in children. However, despite a central disadvantage for the deaf ear, it still remained capable of activating the auditory cortex. Appropriate training may thus help to improve the performance at the second-implanted ear. In conclusion, periods of monaural stimulation should be kept as short as possible, and training focused on the deaf ear should be introduced after delayed second implantation in children.
- asymmetric hearing
- cochlear implant
- congenital single-sided deafness
- deaf white cat
- sensitive period