Profoundly deaf children who use a cochlear implant (CI) provide a unique opportunity to investigate the effects of auditory sensory deprivation on the maturing human central nervous system. Previous results suggest that children fitted with a CI show evidence of altered auditory cortical maturation, based on evoked potentials. This altered maturation was characterized by both latency delays and morphological changes in the cortical auditory evoked potentials (AEPs). Based on prolonged P1 latencies compared to age-matched normal-hearing (NH) peers, these data suggested a delayed maturation nearly equivalent to the period of deafness. However, rates of maturation for this AEP peak were essentially the same in NH and CI children. This suggests that, given enough time, the AEPs of CI children would assume the characteristic morphology found in older NH teens and NH adults. However, the data also indicated a substantial alteration of the typical set of obligatory P1-N1b-P2 peaks, specifically related to the absence of the N1 potential. Recent analyses of more extensive sets of longitudinal and cross-sectional data indicate that even after many years of implant use, the AEPs of CI users in their late teens remain very different from those of their NH peers. The P1 peak latency remains prolonged and P1 amplitude remains much larger in CI users than in age-matched NH teens. These findings suggested that age-related changes in the P1 peak are completed by 12 years of age. In addition, the normal N1b peak fails to emerge in virtually all of the CI children tested in our laboratory. A major new interpretation of the abnormal maturation of AEP waveforms in CI children is presented. It is based on direct evidence showing that a persistent immaturity of the superficial layer axons has persistent negative effects on the generation of the N1b and, consequently, on the morphology of the AEPs. A comparison of scalp-recorded AEPs from implanted children with local field potentials measured from the cortical surface in deaf white kittens suggests the effects of deafness and CI use are similar across these mammalian species. For both species, a period of profound deafness followed by CI stimulation reveals a substantial immaturity in cortical activation even after a period of electrical stimulation by the CI.

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