AUTHORS: Layer N, Weglage A, Müller V, Meister H, Lang-Roth R, Walger M, Murray MM, Sandmann P

Current Research in Neurobiology, 3: 100059, November 2022


Hearing with a cochlear implant (CI) is limited compared to natural hearing. Although CI users may develop compensatory strategies, it is currently unknown whether these extend from auditory to visual functions, and whether compensatory strategies vary between different CI user groups. To better understand the experience-dependent contributions to multisensory plasticity in audiovisual speech perception, the current event-related potential (ERP) study presented syllables in auditory, visual, and audiovisual conditions to CI users with unilateral or bilateral hearing loss, as well as to normal-hearing (NH) controls. Behavioural results revealed shorter audiovisual response times compared to unisensory conditions for all groups. Multisensory integration was confirmed by electrical neuroimaging, including topographic and ERP source analysis, showing a visual modulation of the auditory-cortex response at N1 and P2 latency. However, CI users with bilateral hearing loss showed a distinct pattern of N1 topography, indicating a stronger visual impact on auditory speech processing compared to CI users with unilateral hearing loss and NH listeners. Furthermore, both CI user groups showed a delayed auditory-cortex activation and an additional recruitment of the visual cortex, and a better lip-reading ability compared to NH listeners. In sum, these results extend previous findings by showing distinct multisensory processes not only between NH listeners and CI users in general, but even between CI users with unilateral and bilateral hearing loss. However, the comparably enhanced lip-reading ability and visual-cortex activation in both CI user groups suggest that these visual improvements are evident regardless of the hearing status of the contralateral ear.

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