Ending a 40-year quest, scientists reveal the identity of «hearing» protein
Scientists at Harvard Medical School say they have ended a 40-year-quest for the elusive identity of the sensor protein responsible for hearing and balance.
The results of their research, reported Aug. 22 in Neuron, reveal that TMC1, a protein discovered in 2002, forms a sound- and motion-activated pore that allows the conversion of sound and head movement into nerve signals that travel to the brain—a signaling cascade that enables hearing and balance.
Scientists have long known that when the delicate cells in our inner ear detect sound and movement, they convert them into signals. Where and how this conversion occurs has been the subject of intense scientific debate. No more, the authors say.
“The search for this sensor protein has led to numerous dead ends, but we think this discovery ends the quest,” said David Corey, co-senior author on the study and the Bertarelli Professor of Translational Medical Science at Harvard Medical School.
“We believe our findings settle that issue for good and yield definitive proof that TMC1 is the critical molecular sensor that converts sound and motion into electrical signals the brain can understand,” said co-senior author Jeffrey Holt, Harvard Medical School professor of otolaryngology and of neurology at Boston Children’s Hospital. “It is, indeed, the gatekeeper of hearing.”
The researchers say their findings lay the groundwork for precision-targeted therapies to treat hearing loss that occurs when the TMC1 molecular gate is malformed or missing.
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