Harvard Scientists Pinpoint Protein Key to Hearing and Balance A 40-year quest has borne fruit: Researchers from Harvard Medical School claim to have discovered the specific sensor protein responsible for hearing and balance. Published in the journal Neuron, the report names a protein (TMC1) discovered in 2002 as the protein that converts sound and head movement into electrical signals ... Research in Brief
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Research in Brief  |   November 01, 2018
Harvard Scientists Pinpoint Protein Key to Hearing and Balance
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Hearing & Speech Perception / Research in Brief
Research in Brief   |   November 01, 2018
Harvard Scientists Pinpoint Protein Key to Hearing and Balance
The ASHA Leader, November 2018, Vol. 23, 11. doi:10.1044/leader.RIB4.23112018.11
The ASHA Leader, November 2018, Vol. 23, 11. doi:10.1044/leader.RIB4.23112018.11
Published in the journal Neuron, the report names a protein (TMC1) discovered in 2002 as the protein that converts sound and head movement into electrical signals that travel to the brain.
The research team found that TMC1 proteins assemble in pairs to form sound-activated pores, or ion channels, required for auditory and vestibular transduction in inner-ear hair cells. Using living hair cells of mice, the team substituted TMC1 for 17 amino acids, one at a time, to examine how each one affected the cells’ response to sound and flow of ions.

The report names a protein (TMC1) discovered in 2002 as the protein that converts sound and head movement into electrical signals that travel to the brain.

Multiple TMC1 amino acid sites affected ion flow, which, according to the researchers, demonstrates that TMC1 residues are part of the permeation pathway for hair cell sensory transduction channels. The finding confirms the precise location of the pore that normally allows calcium and potassium influx to initiate signal transmission.
“To design optimal treatments for hearing loss, we need to know the molecules and their structures where disease-causing malfunctions arise, and our findings are an important step in that direction,” says co-senior author Jeffrey Holt, Harvard Medical School professor of otolaryngology and of neurology at Boston Children’s Hospital.
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November 2018
Volume 23, Issue 11