Dieter A, Keppeler D, Moser T
EMBO Mol Med 2020 Apr 7;12(4):e11618.
Cochlear implants (CIs) are considered the most successful neuroprosthesis as they enable speech comprehension in the majority of half a million CI users suffering from sensorineural hearing loss. By electrically stimulating the auditory nerve, CIs constitute an interface re-connecting the brain and the auditory scene, providing the patient with information regarding the latter. However, since electric current is hard to focus in conductive environments such as the cochlea, the precision of electrical sound encoding-and thus quality of artificial hearing-is limited. Recently, optogenetic stimulation of the cochlea has been suggested as an alternative approach for hearing restoration. Cochlear optogenetics promises increased spectral selectivity of artificial sound encoding, hence improved hearing, as light can conveniently be confined in space to activate the auditory nerve within smaller tonotopic ranges. In this review, we discuss the latest experimental and technological developments of cochlear optogenetics and outline the remaining challenges on the way to clinical translation.