New Role for Protein in Hearing

University of Iowa scientists have discovered a new role for a protein that is mutated in Usher syndrome, one of the most common forms of deaf-blindness in humans. The findings, which were published Aug. 8 in Nature Neuroscience, may help explain why this mutation causes the most severe form of the condition.

The study suggests that the protein called harmonin, which is known to be involved in sound sensing in the inner ear, may also play a role in the transmission of sound information to the brain.

Hearing starts with the transmission of sound by inner hair cells in the ear. Sound waves cause movement of special structures called stereocilia on the tips of the hair cells. Harmonin is thought to mediate this movement, which then activates the cells and initiates transmission of sound information as electrical and chemical signals to the brain.

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