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Possible new cell type found in developing inner ear

ring and balance. The visible outer ear focuses sound to the middle then inner ear, which contain the eardrum and three bones that convert sound energy into mechanical energy. The movement of the bones applies pressure to the cochlea, a snail-shaped, fluid-filled organ, converting sound to a stimulus that triggers the hair cells. The hair cells which can be lost to disease, trauma or a congenital defect are activated and send signals to the nerve and eventually the brain where sound is perceived.

Dr. Sohal has published studies that show VENT cells in many areas of the body, most recently in the heart, small intestines and stomach. Still, he is meeting with resistance from some fellow scientists who are skeptical that he has found the first new cell type to be identified in the embryo since 1868. Some say the cells are simply experimental artifacts.

He believes they are much more, that the cells not only can form the four major types of body tissue but that they are the source of stem cells.

"The data is intriguing," says Dr. David J. Kozlowski, developmental geneticist at MCG who is studying hair cell regeneration within the zebrafish inner ear to try to understand how hair cells regenerate in fish and not mammals.

Dr. Kozlowski, who also directs MCG's Transgenic Zebrafish Core Facility, is looking for VENT cells in the zebrafish, another developmental model, to see if he can document their existence. "It's certainly worth investing some effort to see if they exist in fish and, if they do, where do they go," he says.

Dr. Sohal, undaunted most days, says the ubiquitous cells go pretty much everywhere, at least everywhere he has looked to date. "I think this tells us they are a general phenomenon, that the cells have a fundamental role."

Back inside the ear, Dr. Sohal is now looking to determine if VENT cells are part of functional units within the inner ear. "What we have to do is find out where they end up. Are t
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Contact: Toni Baker
tbaker@mail.mcg.edu
706-721-4421
Medical College of Georgia
11-Jun-2003


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