Making Brain Circuits Listen

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Science  10 Sep 1999:
Vol. 285, Issue 5434, pp. 1686-1687
DOI: 10.1126/science.285.5434.1686

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Implant devices that electrically stimulate auditory nerves at their place of origin in the cochlea have helped certain deaf individuals to acquire at least some hearing capabilities. In his Perspective, Josef Rauschecker discusses new findings from a study in kittens deaf from birth that were surgically implanted with electrodes that stimulate the cochlea ( Klinke et al.). When implanted early enough, cochlear implants induced a reorganization of the brain's auditory cortex, leading to the strengthening of synaptic connections or the formation of new synapses. The argument presented in the Perspective is that the auditory cortex is very plastic especially at a young age, and that providing deaf children with cochlear implants as early as possible may increase their chances of acquiring adequate speech understanding.