The polarity sensitivity of the electrically stimulated human auditory nerve measured at the level of the brainstem

Jaime A. Undurraga*, Robert P. Carlyon, Jan Wouters, Astrid Van Wieringen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

48 Citations (Scopus)


Recent behavioral studies have suggested that the human auditory nerve of cochlear implant (CI) users is mainly excited by the positive (anodic) polarity. Those findings were only obtained using asymmetric pseudomonophasic (PS) pulses where the effect of one phase was measured in the presence of a counteracting phase of opposite polarity, longer duration, and lower amplitude than the former phase. It was assumed that only the short high-amplitude phase was responsible for the excitation. Similarly, it has been shown that electrically evoked compound action potentials could only be obtained in response to the anodic phases of asymmetric pulses. Here, experiment 1 measured electrically evoked auditory brainstem responses to standard symmetric, PS, reversed pseudomonophasic, and reversed pseudomonophasic with inter-phase gap (6 ms) pulses presented for both polarities. Responses were time locked to the short high-amplitude phase of asymmetric pulses and were smaller, but still measurable, when that phase was cathodic than when it was anodic. This provides the first evidence that cathodic stimulation can excite the auditory system of human CI listeners and confirms that this stimulation is nevertheless less effective than for the anodic polarity. A second experiment studied the polarity sensitivity at different intensities by means of a loudness balancing task between pseudomonophasic anodic (PSA) and pseudomonophasic cathodic (PSC) stimuli. Previous studies had demonstrated greater sensitivity to anodic stimulation only for stimuli producing loud percepts. The results showed that PSC stimuli required higher amplitudes than PSA stimuli to reach the same loudness and that this held for current levels ranging from 10 to 100 % of the dynamic range.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)359-377
Number of pages19
JournalJARO - Journal of the Association for Research in Otolaryngology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • asymmetric pulse shapes
  • cochlear implants
  • EABR
  • electrically evoked auditory brainstem responses
  • objective measures
  • polarity sensitivity
  • psychophysics


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