Diffusion tensor imaging of the auditory nerve in patients with long-term single-sided deafness

Vos, Sjoerd, Haakma, Wieke, Versnel, Huib, Froeling, Martijn, Speleman, Lucienne, Dik, Pieter, Viergever, Max A., Leemans, Alexander, Grolman, Wilko


Hearing Research 323 p. 1-8


A cochlear implant (CI) can restore hearing in patients with profound sensorineural hearing loss by direct electrical stimulation of the auditory nerve. Therefore, the viability of the auditory nerve is vitally important in successful hearing recovery. However, the nerve typically degenerates following cochlear hair cell loss, and the amount of degeneration may considerably differ between the two ears, also in patients with bilateral deafness. A measure that reflects the nerve's condition would help to assess the best of both nerves and decide accordingly which ear should be implanted for optimal benefit from a CI. Diffusion tensor MRI (DTI) may provide such a measure, by allowing noninvasive investigations of the nerve's microstructure. In this pilot study, we show the first use of DTI to image the auditory nerve in five normal-hearing subjects and five patients with long-term profound single-sided sensorineural hearing loss. A specialized acquisition protocol was designed for a 3T MRI scanner to image the small nerve bundle. The nerve was reconstructed using fiber tractography and DTI metrics - which reflect the nerve's microstructural properties - were computed per tract. Comparing DTI metrics from the deaf-sided with the healthy-sided nerves in patients showed no significant differences. There was a small but significant reduction in fractional anisotropy in both auditory nerves in patients compared with normal-hearing controls. These results are the first evidence of possible changes in the microstructure of the bilateral auditory nerves as a result of single-sided deafness. Our results also indicate that it is too early to assess the degenerative status of the auditory nerve of a subject-specific basis.