Long-Range Auditory Functional Connectivity in Hearing Loss and Rehabilitation

Sara Ponticorvo, Renzo Manara, Josef Pfeuffer, Arianna Cappiello, Sofia Cuoco, Maria Teresa Pellecchia, Donato Troisi, Alfonso Scarpa, Ettore Cassandro, Francesco Di Salle, Fabrizio Esposito

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Background: Patients with age-related sensorineural hearing loss (HL) may benefit from auditory input amplification by using hearing aids (HAs). However, the impact of both HL-and HA-based rehabilitation on central auditory functional connectivity (FC) is not clear. Methodology: Sixty-two HL (22 females, aged 64.4 ± 7.6 years, pure-tone average 50.9 ± 14.7 dB right ear, 50.7 ± 12.9 dB left ear) and 32 normal hearing (NH) subjects (22 females, aged 59.3 ± 7.3 years) were examined in a 3T magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) study. HL patients were analyzed cross-sectionally at baseline (vs. NH subjects) and longitudinally at 6-month follow-up. Between the 2 scans, 31/62 patients used the HA 9.5 ± 3.8 h a day. Arterial spin labeling and blood oxygen level-dependent resting-state functional MRI were performed to measure regional perfusion in the primary auditory cortex and, from here to the whole brain, seed-based FC was performed. Before each scan, HL patients underwent audiological and neurological assessments. Results: At baseline, the HL condition was associated with regional hypoperfusion in right Heschl's gyrus (seed) and negative seed-based FC (anticorrelation) in posterior brain regions. Long-range FC in the precuneus correlated negatively with pure-tone and speech reception average thresholds. At 6-month follow-up, HA usage was associated with seed-based FC increase in the right superior frontal gyrus (SFG) and seed-based FC reduction in the right middle temporal gyrus. Long-range FC changes in the SFG correlated positively with executive function improvements. Conclusions: These findings suggest that HA-based rehabilitation may not reverse HL-related neural effects and yet carry neurological benefits by retuning long-range FC of the auditory system. Age-related sensorineural hearing loss (HL) affects 40% to 60% of the worldwide population and a common, viable rehabilitation strategy is to provide auditory input amplification through hearing aids (HAs). By targeting metabolically depressed, auditory cortical centers, our work reveals a possible neural link between peripheral and central vulnerability in HL patients in the form of aberrant, long-range, functional connectivity effects. Similarly, we unveil how wearing HAs for 6 months may induce neuroplastic changes that positively correlate with improved neuropsychological performances.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)483-492
Number of pages10
JournalBrain connectivity
Issue number6
StatePublished - Aug 2021
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., publishers.


  • cerebral blood flow
  • functional connectivity
  • hearing aid
  • hearing loss
  • perfusion
  • resting-state fMRI


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