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The Crucial Link for Sensory Development in the Ear
Of mice and men - and ears
The team made the discovery that the Sox2 gene was involved after studying two types of mice, one of which was completely deaf and the other had severe hearing impairment. Both also had balance problems. Knowing that sensory hair cells detect sounds and their associated supporting cells in the inner ear are fundamental for hearing, the researchers studied the gene activity of these cells in the ears of the two groups of mice.
Whilst the deaf mice in the study had no sensory hair cells and had severe inner ear malformation, the mice with severe hearing impairment showed abnormal development with disorganised and few sensory hair cells. Scientists found that these characteristics are due to the absence (in the deaf mice) and the reduced expression (in the hearing impaired mice) of the gene Sox2.
Professor Robin Lovell-Badge of the MRC's National Institute for Medical Research, says: "A number of genes have been found that are required to make functional hair cells, the cells that detect sound or movement and balance in the inner ear, but we didn't find genes that initiate development of the sensory system, which comprises both the hair cells and their supporting cells. So the discovery that the Sox2 gene does this is a significant step forward. To develop treatments for deafness in the future, it is now necessary to look at whether this gene can play a part in bringing damaged sensory hair cells back to life or in triggering new sensory cells to grow for use in potential stem cell therapy."
- The Medical Research Council website can be found at: www.mrc.ac.uk