Age at implantation is considered to be a major factor, influencing outcomes after pediatric cochlear implantation. In the absence of acoustic input, it has been proposed that cross-modal reorganization can be detrimental for adaptation to the new electrical input provided by a cochlear implant. Here, through a retrospective study, we aimed to investigate differences in cerebral blood flow (CBF) at rest prior to implantation in children with congenital deafness compared to normally hearing children. In addition, we looked at the putative link between pre-operative rest-CBF and the oral intelligibility scores at 12 months post-implantation. Finally, we observed the evolution of perfusion with age, within brain areas showing abnormal rest-CBF associated to deafness, in deaf children and in normally hearing children. In children older than 5 years old, results showed a significant bilateral hypoperfusion in temporal regions in deaf children, particularly in Heschl's gyrus, and a significant hyperperfusion of occipital regions. Furthermore, in children older than 5 years old, whole brain voxel-by-voxel correlation analysis between pre-operative rest-CBF and oral intelligibility scores at 12 months post-implantation, showed significant negative correlation localized in the occipital regions: children who performed worse in the speech perception test one year after implantation were those presenting higher preoperative CBF values in these occipital regions. Finally, when comparing mean relative perfusion (extracted from the temporal regions found abnormal on whole-brain voxel-based analysis) across ages in patients and controls, we observed that the temporal perfusion evolution was significantly different in deaf children than in normally hearing children. Indeed, while temporal perfusion increased with age in normally hearing children, it remained stable in deaf children. We showed a critical period around 4 years old, where in the context of auditory deprivation, there is a lack of synaptic activity in auditory regions. These results support the benefits of early cochlear implantation to maximize the effectiveness of auditory rehabilitation and to avoid cross-modal reorganization.
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