Hair cell repair protein could lead to new hearing loss treatments
Many of us are resigned to the fact that we’ll naturally lose some of our hearing as we age, but there may be a way to slow that down. Scientists at the University of Virginia (UVA) have identified a mechanism that lets hair cells repair themselves, which could be hacked for therapies that restore lost hearing.
Stereocilia are tiny, hair-shaped cells – hence their common name – that line your inner ear. They’re extremely sensitive to vibrations, and send those signals to the brain to be processed and understood as sound. The problem is, their sensitivity means they can be destroyed by the very thing they’re meant to detect, and once they’re gone, there’s no coming back.
Finding ways to regenerate lost hair cells is an area of focus for many scientists, but for the new study, the UVA researchers identified a mechanism that might help prevent their loss in the first place.
The cores of hair cells are made up of a substance called actin, and loud noises can damage those cores. The UVA team found that hair cells have some capacity to fix this kind of damage before it gets too bad and destroys the hair cell. A protein called XIRP2 can sense damage to cores, then migrates to the site and starts filling in new actin.
“We are especially excited to have identified a novel mechanism by which XIRP2 can sense damage-associated distortions of the actin backbone,” said Jung-Bum Shin, corresponding author of the study. “This is of relevance not only for hair cell research, but the broader cell biology discipline.”
The team says that identifying this process could help lead to new treatments for hearing loss, especially when paired with ongoing research into regenerating hair cells. But of course, there’s a lot more work to do before it could be translated to therapies in humans.
The research was published in the journal eLife.