Hearing Loss

Supporting cells take on a starring role

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Science  05 Dec 2014:
Vol. 346, Issue 6214, pp. 1196
DOI: 10.1126/science.346.6214.1196-e

Hair cells (green) and supporting cells (cyan) in a neonatal mouse cochlea

PHOTO: GUOQIANG WAN

“Supporting cells” in the inner ear have more to offer than their uninspiring name suggests. Studies of deafness often emphasize the role of hair cells, the sensory cells that transmit sound signals to the brain. Loss of hair cells causes permanent deafness, because these cells cannot regenerate. Loss of supporting cells also causes deafness, but a new study suggests that there may be hope. Mellado Lagarde et al. found that supporting cells can regenerate during a brief time period after birth. When they selectively eliminated supporting cells in newborn mice, nearby cells rapidly replaced them, thereby preserving hearing. The next step is to find a drug that induces regeneration.

Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 10.1073/pnas.1408064111 (2014).

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