"These findings give us a potential stragegy for hair cell regeneration, which could have enormous implications for the treatment of hearing and balance disorders," says Zheng-Yi Chen, DPhil, of the MGH Neurology Service, the study's senior author. "It also shows that cells that have been considered incapable of regeneration like most nerve cells can reproduce under the right conditions, which may have applications to neurodegenerative diseases."
Named for the hair-like projections on their surfaces, hair cells form a ribbon of vibration sensors along the length of the cochlea, the organ of the inner ear that senses sound. Receiving sonic vibrations through the eardrum and bones of the middle ear, hair cells convert them to electrical signals that are carried to the brain by the auditory nerve. Among the earliest structures to form in embryonic development, hair cells are very sensitive to damage from excessive noise, infections or toxins including some medications. Once damaged, hair cells do not naturally regenerate in mammals, and their death accounts for most types of acquired hearing loss.
Cells grow and divide through a process called the cell cycle, and many proteins have been indentified as controllers of the different cell cycle phases. Chen's group started by carrying out a comprehensive assessment of which genes are active in the developing mouse e
Contact: Sue McGreevey
Massachusetts General Hospital