Within the cochlea of the inner ear, sound waves cause the basilar membrane to vibrate. These vibrations stimulate hair cells, which then trigger nerve impulses that are transmitted to the brain.
Researchers have now learned that mutations in a protein called espin can cause floppiness in tiny bundles of protein filaments within the hair cells, impairing the passage of vibrations and resulting in deafness.
Filamentous actin (F-actin) is a rod-like protein that provides structural framework in living cells. F-actin is organized into bundles by espin, a linker protein found in sensory cells, including cochlear hair cells. Genetic mutations in espin's F-actin binding sites are linked to deafness in mice and humans.
"We found the structure of the bundles changes dramatically when normal espin is replaced with espin mutants that cause deafness," said Gerard Wong, a professor of materials science and engineering, of physics, and of bioengineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
"The interior structure of the bundles changes from a rigid, hexagonal array of uniformly twisted filaments, to a liquid crystalline arrangement of filaments," Wong said. "Because the new organization causes the bundles to be more than a thousand times floppier, they cannot respond to sound in the same way. The rigidity of these bundles is essential for hearing."
Wong and his co-authors – Illinois postdoctoral research associate Kirstin Purdy and Northwestern University professor of cell and molecular biology James R. Bartles – report their findings in a paper accepted for publication in the journal Physical Review Letters, and posted on its Web site.
High-resolution X-ray diffraction experiments, performed by Purdy at the Advanced Photon Source and at the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Laboratory, allowed the researchers to solve the structure of various espin-actin bundles.
"As the ability of espin to cross-link F-actin is decreased by using genetically modified 'deafness' mutants with progressively more damaged actin binding sites, the structure changes from a well-ordered crystalline array of filaments to a nematic, liquid crystal-like state," said Wong, who also is a researcher at the Frederick Seitz Materials Research Laboratory on campus and at the university's Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology.
In the liquid crystalline state, the bundles maintain their orientation order – that is, they point roughly along the same direction – but lose their positional order. These nematic liquid crystals are commonly used in watch displays and laptop displays.
Wong and his colleagues also found that a mixture of mutant espin and normal espin would prevent the structural transition from occurring. If gene expression could turn on the production of just a fraction of normal espin linkers, a kind of rescue attempt at restoring hearing could, in principle, be made.
"We have identified the underlying molecular cause for one form of deafness, and we have identified a mechanism to potentially 'rescue' this particular kind of pathology," Wong said. "Even so, this is really the first step. This work has relevance to not just human hearing, but also to artificial sensors."
James E. Kloeppel | EurekAlert!
Engineering team images tiny quasicrystals as they form
18.08.2017 | Cornell University
Astrophysicists explain the mysterious behavior of cosmic rays
18.08.2017 | Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology
Whether you call it effervescent, fizzy, or sparkling, carbonated water is making a comeback as a beverage. Aside from quenching thirst, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have discovered a new use for these "bubbly" concoctions that will have major impact on the manufacturer of the world's thinnest, flattest, and one most useful materials -- graphene.
As graphene's popularity grows as an advanced "wonder" material, the speed and quality at which it can be manufactured will be paramount. With that in mind,...
Physicists at the University of Bonn have managed to create optical hollows and more complex patterns into which the light of a Bose-Einstein condensate flows. The creation of such highly low-loss structures for light is a prerequisite for complex light circuits, such as for quantum information processing for a new generation of computers. The researchers are now presenting their results in the journal Nature Photonics.
Light particles (photons) occur as tiny, indivisible portions. Many thousands of these light portions can be merged to form a single super-photon if they are...
For the first time, scientists have shown that circular RNA is linked to brain function. When a RNA molecule called Cdr1as was deleted from the genome of mice, the animals had problems filtering out unnecessary information – like patients suffering from neuropsychiatric disorders.
While hundreds of circular RNAs (circRNAs) are abundant in mammalian brains, one big question has remained unanswered: What are they actually good for? In the...
An experimental small satellite has successfully collected and delivered data on a key measurement for predicting changes in Earth's climate.
The Radiometer Assessment using Vertically Aligned Nanotubes (RAVAN) CubeSat was launched into low-Earth orbit on Nov. 11, 2016, in order to test new...
A study led by scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg presents evidence of the coexistence of superconductivity and “charge-density-waves” in compounds of the poorly-studied family of bismuthates. This observation opens up new perspectives for a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of high-temperature superconductivity, a topic which is at the core of condensed matter research since more than 30 years. The paper by Nicoletti et al has been published in the PNAS.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, superconductivity had been observed in some metals at temperatures only a few degrees above the absolute zero (minus...
16.08.2017 | Event News
04.08.2017 | Event News
26.07.2017 | Event News
21.08.2017 | Materials Sciences
21.08.2017 | Health and Medicine
21.08.2017 | Materials Sciences