Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Proteins Hey1 and Hey2 Ensure that Inner Ear 'Hair Cells' Are Made at the Right Time and in the Right Place


Two Johns Hopkins neuroscientists have discovered the “molecular brakes” that time the generation of important cells in the inner ear cochleas of mice. These “hair cells” translate sound waves into electrical signals that are carried to the brain and are interpreted as sounds. If the arrangement of the cells is disordered, hearing is impaired. A summary of the research will be published in The Journal of Neuroscience on Sept. 16.

“The proteins Hey1 and Hey2 act as brakes to prevent hair cell generation until the time is right,” says Angelika Doetzlhofer, Ph.D., an assistant professor of neuroscience. “Without them, the hair cells end up disorganized and dysfunctional.”

Angelika Doetzlhofer

The hair cells of mice missing just Hey2 are neatly lined up in four rows (left) while those missing Hey1 and Hey2 are disorganized (right). The cells' hairlike protrusions (pink) can be misoriented, too.

The cochlea is a coiled, fluid-filled structure bordered by a flexible membrane that vibrates when sound waves hit it. This vibration is passed through the fluid in the cochlea and sensed by specialized hair cells that line the tissue in four precise rows. Their name comes from the cells’ hairlike protrusions that detect movement of the cochlear fluid and create electrical signals that relay the sound to the brain.

During development, “parent cells” within the cochlea gradually differentiate into hair cells in a precise sequence, starting with the cells at the base of the cochlea and progressing toward its tip. The signaling protein Sonic Hedgehog was known to be released by nearby nerve cells in a time- and space-dependent pattern that matches that of hair cell differentiation. But the mechanism of Sonic Hedgehog’s action was unclear.

Doetzlhofer and postdoctoral fellow Ana Benito Gonzalez bred mice whose inner ear cells were missing Hey1 and Hey2, two genes known to be active in the parent cells but turned off in hair cells. They found that, without those genes, the cells were generated too early and were abnormally patterned: Rows of hair cells were either too many or too few, and their hairlike protrusions were often deformed and pointing in the wrong direction.

“While these mice didn’t live long enough for us to test their hearing, we know from other studies that mice with disorganized hair cell patterns have serious hearing problems,” says Doetzlhofer.

Further experiments demonstrated the role of Sonic Hedgehog in regulating the two key genes.

“Hey1 and Hey2 stop the parent cells from turning into hair cells until the time is right,” explains Doetzlhofer. “Sonic Hedgehog applies those ‘brakes,’ then slowly releases pressure on them as the cochlea develops. If the brakes stop working, the hair cells are generated too early and end up misaligned.”

She adds that Sonic Hedgehog, Hey1 and Hey2 are found in many other parent cell types throughout the developing nervous system and may play similar roles in timing the generation of other cell types.

This work was supported by grants from the Whitehall Foundation (2010-05-81) and the National Institute on Deafness and other Communication Disorders (F32DC013477, DC005211).

On the Web:

View the article at The Journal of Neuroscience (after the embargo lifts).

Learn more about Angelika Doetzlhofer.

Catherine Kolf | newswise

Further reports about: Cells Communication Disorders Medicine brakes cell types genes hair cells hearing sound waves

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht ‘Farming’ bacteria to boost growth in the oceans
24.10.2016 | Max-Planck-Institut für marine Mikrobiologie

nachricht Calcium Induces Chronic Lung Infections
24.10.2016 | Universität Basel

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Oasis of life in the ice-covered central Arctic

24.10.2016 | Earth Sciences

‘Farming’ bacteria to boost growth in the oceans

24.10.2016 | Life Sciences

Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

24.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

More VideoLinks >>>