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fMRI as a Preimplant Objective Tool to Predict Children’s Postimplant Auditory and Language Outcomes as Measured by Parental Observations

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The trends in cochlear implantation candidacy and benefit have changed rapidly in the last two decades. It is now widely accepted that early implantation leads to better postimplant outcomes. Although some generalizations can be made about postimplant auditory and language performance, neural mechanisms need to be studied to predict individual prognosis.


The aim of this study was to use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to identify preimplant neuroimaging biomarkers that predict children’s postimplant auditory and language outcomes as measured by parental observation/reports.

Research Design:

This is a pre‐post correlational measures study.

Study Sample:

Twelve possible cochlear implant candidates with bilateral severe to profound hearing loss were recruited via referrals for a clinical magnetic resonance imaging to ensure structural integrity of the auditory nerve for implantation.


Participants underwent cochlear implantation at a mean age of 19.4 mo. All children used the advanced combination encoder strategy (ACE, Cochlear Corporation™, Nucleus® Freedom cochlear implants). Three participants received an implant in the right ear; one in the left ear whereas eight participants received bilateral implants. Participants’ preimplant neuronal activation in response to two auditory stimuli was studied using an event-related fMRI method.

Data Collection and Analysis:

Blood oxygen level dependent contrast maps were calculated for speech and noise stimuli. The general linear model was used to create z-maps. The Auditory Skills Checklist (ASC) and the SKI-HI Language Development Scale (SKI-HI LDS) were administered to the parents 2 yr after implantation. A nonparametric correlation analysis was implemented between preimplant fMRI activation and postimplant auditory and language outcomes based on ASC and SKI-HI LDS. Statistical Parametric Mapping software was used to create regression maps between fMRI activation and scores on the aforementioned tests. Regression maps were overlaid on the Imaging Research Center infant template and visualized in MRIcro.


Regression maps revealed two clusters of brain activation for the speech versus silence contrast and five clusters for the noise versus silence contrast that were significantly correlated with the parental reports. These clusters included auditory and extra-auditory regions such as the middle temporal gyrus, supramarginal gyrus, precuneus, cingulate gyrus, middle frontal gyrus, subgyral, and middle occipital gyrus. Both positive and negative correlations were observed. Correlation values for the different clusters ranged from −0.90 to 0.95 and were significant at a corrected p value of <0.05. Correlations suggest that postimplant performance may be predicted by activation in specific brain regions.


The results of the present study suggest that (1) fMRI can be used to identify neuroimaging biomarkers of auditory and language performance before implantation and (2) activation in certain brain regions may be predictive of postimplant auditory and language performance as measured by parental observation/reports.
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Keywords: cochlear implants; functional magnetic resonance imaging; hearing; infants; language; observation; parents

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 May 2018

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