Harnessing regenerative power of early supporting cells could lead to new strategies to combat many causes of deafness, animal research shows
There's a cast of characters deep inside your ears -- many kinds of tiny cells working together to allow you to hear. The lead actors, called hair cells, play the crucial role in carrying sound signals to the brain.
This microscopic view of cells deep within the ear of a newborn mouse show in red and blue the supporting cells that surround the hair cells (green) that send sound signals to the brain. New research shows that the supporting cells can regenerate if damaged in the first days of life, allowing hearing to develop normally. This gives new clues for potential ways to restore hearing.
Credit: Guoqiang Wan, University of Michigan
But new research shows that when it comes to restoring lost hearing ability, the spotlight may fall on some of the ear's supporting actors - and their understudies.
In a new paper published online first by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers from the University of Michigan Medical School, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital and colleagues report the results of in-depth studies of these cells, fittingly called supporting cells.
The research shows that damage to the supporting cells in the mature mouse results in the loss of hair cells and profound deafness. But the big surprise of this study was that if supporting cells are lost in the newborn mouse, the ear rapidly regenerates new supporting cells - resulting in complete preservation of hearing. This remarkable regeneration resulted from cells from an adjacent structure moving in and transforming into full-fledged supporting cells.
It was as if a supporting actor couldn't perform, and his young understudy stepped in suddenly to carry on the performance and support the lead actor -- with award-winning results.
The finding not only shows that deafness can result from loss of supporting cells -- it reveals a previously unknown ability to regenerate supporting cells that's present only for a few days after birth in the mice.
If scientists can determine what's going on inside these cells, they might be able to harness it to find new approaches to regenerating auditory cells and restoring hearing in humans of all ages.
Senior author and U-M Kresge Hearing Research Institute director Gabriel Corfas, Ph.D., says the research shows that supporting cells play a more critical role in hearing than they get credit for.
In fact, he says, efforts to restore hearing by making new hair cells out of supporting cells may fail, unless researchers also work to replace the supporting cells.
"We had known that losing hair cells results in deafness, and there has been an effort to find a way to regenerated these specialized cells. One idea has been to induce supporting cells to become hair cells. Now we discover that losing supporting cells kills hair cells as well," he explains.
"And now, we've found that there's an intrinsic regenerative potential in the very early days of life that we could harness as we work to cure deafness," continues Corfas, who is a professor in the U-M Department of Otolaryngology. "This is relevant to many forms of inherited and congenital deafness, and hearing loss due to age and noise exposure. If we can identify the molecules that are responsible for this regeneration, we may be able to turn back the clock inside these ears and regenerate lost cells."
In the study, the "understudy" supporting cells found in a structure called the greater epithelial ridge transformed into full-fledged supporting cells after the researchers destroyed the mice's own supporting cells with a precisely targeted toxin that didn't affect hair cells. The new cells differentiated into the kinds that had been lost, called inner border cells and inner phalangeal cells.
"Hair cell loss can be a consequence of supporting cell dysfunctional or loss, suggesting that in many cases deafness could be primarily a supporting cell disease," says Corfas. "Understanding the mechanisms that underlie these processes should help in the development of regenerative medicine strategies to treat deafness and vestibular disorders."
Making sure that the inner ear has enough supporting cells, which themselves can transform into hair cells, will be a critical upstream step of any regenerative medicine approaches, he says.
Corfas and his colleagues continue to study the phenomenon, and hope to find drugs that can trigger the same regenerative powers that they saw in the newborn mice.
The research was a partnership between Corfas' team at U-M and that of Jian Zuo, Ph.D., of St. Jude, and the two share senior authorship. Marcia M. Mellado Lagarde, Ph.D. of St. Jude and Guoqiang Wan, Ph.D., of U-M are co-first authors. Additional authors are LingLi Zhang of St. Jude, Corfas' former colleagues at Harvard University Angelica R. Gigliello and John J. McInnis; and Yingxin Zhang and Dwight Bergles, both of Johns Hopkins University.
The research was funded by a Sir Henry Wellcome Fellowship, a Hearing Health Foundation Emerging Research Grant, the Boston Children's Hospital Otolaryngology Foundation, National Institutes of Health grants DC004820, HD18655, DC006471, and CA21765; Office of Naval Research Grants N000140911014, N000141210191, and N000141210775, and by the American Lebanese Syrian Associated Charities of St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.
Reference: PNAS 2014 ; published ahead of print, doi:10.1073/pnas.1408064111
Kara Gavin | EurekAlert!
Transport of molecular motors into cilia
28.03.2017 | Aarhus University
Asian dust providing key nutrients for California's giant sequoias
28.03.2017 | University of California - Riverside
The Institute of Semiconductor Technology and the Institute of Physical and Theoretical Chemistry, both members of the Laboratory for Emerging Nanometrology (LENA), at Technische Universität Braunschweig are partners in a new European research project entitled ChipScope, which aims to develop a completely new and extremely small optical microscope capable of observing the interior of living cells in real time. A consortium of 7 partners from 5 countries will tackle this issue with very ambitious objectives during a four-year research program.
To demonstrate the usefulness of this new scientific tool, at the end of the project the developed chip-sized microscope will be used to observe in real-time...
Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.
The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.
Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...
Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.
Ubiquitin is a small protein that can be linked to other cellular proteins, thereby controlling and modulating their functions. The attachment occurs in many...
In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...
20.03.2017 | Event News
14.03.2017 | Event News
07.03.2017 | Event News
28.03.2017 | Life Sciences
28.03.2017 | Information Technology
28.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy