Auditory neural impairment is a key clinical feature of Friedreich's Ataxia (FRDA). We aimed to characterize the phenotypical spectrum of the auditory impairment in FRDA in order to facilitate early identification and timely management of auditory impairment in FRDA patients and to explore the relationship between the severity of auditory impairment with genetic variables (the expansion size of GAA trinucleotide repeats, GAA1 and GAA2), when controlled for variables such as disease duration, severity of the disease and cognitive status. Twenty-seven patients with genetically confirmed FRDA underwent baseline audiological assessment (pure-tone audiometry, otoacoustic emissions, auditory brainstem response). Twenty of these patients had additional psychophysical auditory processing evaluation including an auditory temporal processing test (gaps in noise test) and a binaural speech perception test that assesses spatial processing (Listening in Spatialized Noise-Sentences Test). Auditory spatial and auditory temporal processing ability were significantly associated with the repeat length of GAA1. Patients with GAA1 greater than 500 repeats had more severe auditory temporal and spatial processing deficits, leading to poorer speech perception. Furthermore, the spatial processing ability was strongly correlated with the Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA) score. This is the first study to demonstrate an association between genotype and auditory spatial processing phenotype in patients with FRDA. Auditory temporal processing, neural sound conduction, spatial processing and speech perception were more severely affected in patients with GAA1 greater than 500 repeats. The results of this study may indicate that auditory deprivation plays a role in the development of mild cognitive impairment in FRDA patients.
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