Journal of the Association for Research in Otolaryngology vol:9 issue:2 pages:241-251
Most contemporary cochlear implants (CIs) stimulate the auditory nerve with trains of amplitude-modulated, symmetric biphasic pulses. Although both polarities of a pulse can depolarize the nerve fibers and generate action potentials, it remains unknown which of the two ( positive or negative) phases has the stronger effect. Understanding the effects of pulse polarity will help to optimize the stimulation protocols and to deliver the most relevant information to the implant listeners. Animal experiments have shown that cathodic ( negative) current flows are more effective than anodic ( positive) ones in eliciting neural responses, and this finding has motivated the development of novel speech-processing algorithms. In this study, we show electrophysiologically and psychophysically that the human auditory system exhibits the opposite pattern, being more sensitive to anodic stimulation. We measured electrically evoked compound action potentials in CI listeners for phase-separated pulses, allowing us to tease out the responses to each of the two opposite-polarity phases. At an equal stimulus level, the anodic phase yielded the larger response. Furthermore, a measure of psychophysical masking patterns revealed that this polarity difference was still present at higher levels of the auditory system and was therefore not solely due to antidromic propagation of the neural response. This finding may relate to a particular orientation of the nerve fibers relative to the electrode or to a substantial degeneration and demyelination of the peripheral processes. Potential applications to improve CI speech-processing strategies are discussed.