The use of cochlear implants to restore auditory sensation in deaf children is increasing, with a trend toward earlier implantation. However, little is known about how auditory deprivation and subsequent cochlear implant use affect the maturing human central auditory system. Our previous studies have demonstrated that the obligatory auditory evoked potentials (AEPs) of implanted children are very different from those of normal-hearing children. Unlike the obligatory potentials, which primarily reflect neural responses to stimulus onset, the mismatch negativity (MMN) provides a neurophysiological measure of auditory short-term memory and discrimination processes. The purpose of this investigation is to review our studies of the effects of auditory deprivation due to profound deafness and cochlear implant use on the maturation of the MMN in children, placed in the context of overall age-related changes in the AEPs. The development and application of a statistical technique to assess the MMN in individuals is also reviewed. Results show that although the morphology of the obligatory AEPs is substantially altered by the absence of a normal N1 peak, the MMN is robustly present in a group of implanted children who have good spoken language perception through their device. Differences exist in the scalp distribution of the MMN between implanted and normal-hearing children. Specifically, the MMN appears to be more symmetrical in amplitude over both hemispheres, whereas it is initially much larger over the contralateral hemisphere in normal-hearing children. These findings suggest that, compared to N1, the MMN is a better measure of basic auditory processes necessary for the development of spoken language perception skills in profoundly deaf children and adults who use a cochlear implant.

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