Researchers have discovered a gene that appears to be critical for maintaining a healthy sense of balance in mice. The study, led by a team at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, appears in the April 1 issue of the journal Human Molecular Genetics and online March 24.
"Loss of balance is a significant problem in the elderly because it can lead to dangerous falls and injuries," says one of the studys principal investigators, David M. Ornitz, M.D., Ph.D., professor of molecular biology and pharmacology at the School of Medicine. "Loss of balance also is a problem for astronauts following exposure to zero gravity. Now that weve discovered this new gene, we can begin to understand the mechanisms that allow the body to sense gravity and maintain balance."
Balance is determined and regulated by the vestibular system, which is housed in the inner ear. To detect gravity, a cluster of particles called otoconia rests atop hair cells lining the inner ear. Like a water buoy guided by the movement of waves, otoconia are displaced as the body moves. As otoconia move, they shift the hair cells, which triggers the cells to send messages to the brain.
Gila Z. Reckess | EurekAlert!
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