Object. A new generation of penetrating electrodes for auditory brainstem implants is on the verge of being introduced into clinical practice. This study was designed to compare electrically evoked auditory brainstem responses (EABRs) to stimulation of the cochlear nucleus (CN) by microsurgically implanted surface electrodes and insertion electrodes (INSELs) with stimulation areas of identical size.
Methods. Via a lateral suboccipital approach, arrays of surface and penetrating microelectrodes with geometric stimulation areas measuring 4417 µm2 (diameter 75 µm) were placed over and inserted into the CN in 10 adult cats. After recording the auditory brainstem response (ABR) at the mastoid process, the CN, and the level of the inferior colliculus, EABRs to stimulation of the CN were recorded using biphasic, charge-balanced stimuli with phase durations of 80 µsec, 160 µsec, and 240 µsec at a repetition rate of 22.3 Hz. Waveform, threshold, maximum amplitude, and the dynamic range of the responses were compared for surface and penetrating electrodes.
The EABR waveforms that appeared for both types of stimulation resembled each other closely. The mean impedance was slightly lower (30 ± 3.4 kΩ compared with 31.7 ± 4.5 kΩ, at 10 kHz), but the mean EABR threshold was significantly higher (51.8 µA compared with 40.5 µA, t = 3.5, p = 0.002) for surface electrode arrays as opposed to penetrating electrode arrays. Due to lower saturation levels of the INSEL array, dynamic ranges were almost identical between the two types of stimulation. Sectioning of the eighth cranial nerve did not abolish EABRs.
Conclusions. Microsurgical insertion of electrodes into the CN complex may be guided and monitored using techniques similar to those applied for implantation of surface electrodes. Lower thresholds and almost equivalent dynamic ranges indicate that a more direct access to secondary auditory neurons is achieved using penetrating electrodes.