Cell Biology

Growing Back Hearing?

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Science  21 Mar 2014:
Vol. 343, Issue 6177, pp. 1291
DOI: 10.1126/science.343.6177.1291-b

Hair cells do not normally regenerate in the mammalian ear, and it has been thought that permanent damage to human hair cells in the cochlea inexorably resulted in hearing loss. However, Bramhall et al. have found that supporting cells in the cochlea taken from newborn mice can turn into hair cells. In a chemical model of damage, explant cultures were treated with gentamycin, and lineage tracing was done to track cell populations. New hair cells arose at a low level from a subpopulation of supporting cells that expressed the Lgr5 (leucine-rich repeat–containing G protein–coupled receptor 5) marker, a protein in the Wnt signaling pathway. Previous studies had shown that inhibition of the Notch signaling pathway can help restore hearing in mice with noise-induced deafness. Here, Bramhall and colleagues found that Notch inhibition by a gamma secretase inhibitor increased the fraction of supporting cells that transdifferentiated into hair cells and that the effects of Notch were dependent on β–catenin. It is not yet known whether this process can be triggered in older animals.

Stem Cell Rep. 2, 311 (2014).

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