Boosting Key Protein Restores Hearing in Mice Scientists have restored the hearing of mice partly deafened by noise, using advanced tools to boost the production of a key protein—NT3—in their ears, according to a paper in the online journal eLife. The finding that NT3 is crucial to the body’s ability to form and maintain connections between hair ... Research in Brief
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Research in Brief  |   January 01, 2015
Boosting Key Protein Restores Hearing in Mice
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Hearing & Speech Perception / Research in Brief
Research in Brief   |   January 01, 2015
Boosting Key Protein Restores Hearing in Mice
The ASHA Leader, January 2015, Vol. 20, 15. doi:10.1044/leader.RIB2.20012015.15
The ASHA Leader, January 2015, Vol. 20, 15. doi:10.1044/leader.RIB2.20012015.15
Scientists have restored the hearing of mice partly deafened by noise, using advanced tools to boost the production of a key protein—NT3—in their ears, according to a paper in the online journal eLife.
The finding that NT3 is crucial to the body’s ability to form and maintain connections between hair cells and nerve cells paves the way for research that could improve treatment of hearing loss caused by noise exposure and normal aging.
The work of a team from the University of Michigan Medical School’s Kresge Hearing Research Institute and Harvard University illustrates the key role of cells that have traditionally been seen as the “supporting actors” of the ear-brain connection. Called supporting cells, they form a physical base for the hearing system’s “stars”—the hair cells in the ear that interact directly with the nerves that carry sound signals to the brain—and produce NT3 molecules.
The connection, called a ribbon synapse, allows extra-rapid communication of signals between the two types of cells. Noise or normal aging can damage ribbon synapses, resulting in hearing loss.
Using a special genetic technique, the researchers made it possible for some mice to produce additional NT3 in specific inner ear cells after the mice were exposed to noise loud enough to reduce hearing. The mice with extra NT3 regained their hearing over a period of two weeks, and were able to hear much better than mice without the extra NT3 production. The scientists also did the same with BDNF, another nerve cell growth factor, but did not see the same effect on hearing.
The team will next explore the role of NT3 in human ears, and seek drugs—rather than gene therapy—that boost NT3 action or production, according to Gabriel Corfas, who led the team and directs the Kresge Hearing Research Institute.
Corfas notes that the study mice were not completely deafened, so it’s not clear if boosting NT3 activity could restore hearing that has been entirely lost.
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January 2015
Volume 20, Issue 1