Shedding Light on Hearing Problems

Mouse study finds hair cells in inner ear develop rapidly

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FRIDAY, Sept. 26, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- Hair cells in the inner ear that help control hearing and balance develop in a single day in mouse embryos.

The finding comes from a University of Virginia Health System study in the October issue of Nature Neuroscience.

The study found the process occurs between day 16 and day 17 of mouse gestation. That's roughly equivalent to the late second trimester or early third trimester in humans.

This information about mouse inner development may help research into the regeneration of sensory hair cells in the human ear, the researchers say. It may also lead to a better understanding of congenital hearing and balance problems in people.

"We were surprised that development of hair cells in the inner ear takes place so rapidly," researcher Jeffrey R. Holt, assistant professor of neuroscience and otolaryngology, says in a news statement.

"Suddenly, the hair cells began working. To eventually discover how to regenerate hair cells in the human ear, we have to know when and how the original hair cells develop. That's why this research is so central to our knowledge," Holt says.

The next step is to identify the molecular "switches" that turn on inner ear cells.

"Scientists at UVa and elsewhere are working to test stem cells to see if they can develop into hair cells. If we can find the molecular process, we can potentially turn another cell type into an inner ear hair," Holt says.

More information

Here's where you can learn more about hearing and balance.

SOURCE: University of Virginia Health System, news release, September 2003

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