Investigating the Effect of Cochlear Synaptopathy on Envelope Following Responses Using a Model of the Auditory Nerve

Gerard Encina-Llamas*, James Harte, Torsten Dau, Barbara Shinn-Cunningham, Bastian Epp

*Corresponding author for this work

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The healthy auditory system enables communication in challenging situations with high levels of background noise. Yet, despite normal sensitivity to pure tones, many listeners complain about having difficulties in such situations. Recent animal studies demonstrated that noise overexposure that produces temporary threshold shifts can cause the loss of auditory nerve (AN) fiber synapses (i.e., cochlear synaptopathy, CS), which appears to predominantly affect medium- and low-spontaneous rate (SR) fibers. In the present study, envelope following response (EFR) magnitude-level functions were recorded in normal hearing (NH) threshold and mildly hearingimpaired (HI) listeners with thresholds elevated above 2 kHz. EFRs were elicited by sinusoidally amplitude
modulated (SAM) tones presented in quiet with a carrier frequency of 2 kHz, modulated at 93 Hz, and modulation depths of 0.85 (deep) and 0.25 (shallow). While EFR magnitude-level functions for deeply modulated tones were similar for all listeners, EFR magnitudes for shallowly modulated tones were reduced at medium stimulation levels in some NH threshold listeners and saturated in all HI listeners for the whole level range. A phenomenological model of the AN was used to investigate the extent to which hair-cell dysfunction and/or CS could explain the
trends observed in the EFR data. Hair-cell dysfunction alone, including postulated elevated hearing thresholds at extended high frequencies (EHF) beyond 8 kHz, could not account for the recorded EFR data. Postulated CS led to simulations generally consistent with the recorded data, but a loss of all types of AN fibers was required within the model framework. The effects of off-frequency contributions (i.e., away from the characteristic place of the stimulus) and the differential loss of different AN fiber types on EFR magnitude-level functions were analyzed. When using SAM tones in quiet as the stimulus, model simulations suggested that (1) EFRs are dominated by the activity of high-SR fibers at all stimulus intensities, and (2) EFRs at medium-to-high stimulus levels are dominated by off-frequency contributions.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJ A R O
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)363-382
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • Cochlear synaptopathy
  • ”Hidden” hearing loss
  • Envelope following responses
  • Auditory steady-state responses
  • Auditory nerve modeling


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