Importance of the junctions between supporting cells in the inner ear for hearing and balance revealed
Hearing and balance depend on hair cells with microscopic sensory hairs, bending in response to vibrations caused by sound or movement. Unlike other vertebrates, whose inner ear supporting cells (SCs) can produce new hair cells if needed, mammals lose this ability during development, so any damage leads to permanent hearing loss and balance disorders. The connections between our SCs also change at the same time with an increase in proteins involved in cell adhesion, at the junctions linking cells together. In recent experiments on 8-day-old mouse utricles (a balance organ in the inner ear, pictured, with SCs in yellow), treatment with growth factors reversed these changes, before ultimately encouraging SCs to multiply. Suggesting that the unique changes to cell junctions in mammalian SCs contribute to their inability to renew hair cells, these results indicate promising avenues for future research on hearing and balance defects.
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