Gene Transfer Shown to Grow Functional Auditory Hair Cells

Scientists have succeeded at using gene transfer to produce functioning auditory hair cells in the cochlea of the mouse inner ear, which suggests possible treatments to reverse hearing loss. The research by Oregon and Stanford University scientists was published online Aug. 27 by the journal Nature in a paper titled "Functional auditory hair cells produced in the mammalian cochlea by in utero gene transfer."

"One approach to restore auditory function is to replace defective cells with healthy new cells," John Brigande, Ph.D., an assistant professor of otolaryngology at the Oregon Hearing Research Center in the Oregon Health & Science University School of Medicine, said in a release posted by OHSU. "Our work shows that it is possible to produce functional auditory hair cells in the mammalian cochlea."

The work focused on hair cells located in a part of the cochlea called the organ of Corti; death of these cells, whether from exposure to loud noises for prolonged periods, certain diseases, or aging, causes hearing loss. The researchers -- Samuel P. Gubbels, David W. Woessner, and Brigande, all of whom worked at OHRC when the research took place; John C. Mitchell of the School of Dentistry at OHSU; and Anthony J. Ricci of the Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery at the Stanford University School of Medicine -- transferred a gene called Atoh1 into the developing inner ears of mice, along with green florescent protein as a marker that could pinpoint the location of the Atoh1 expression. Ricci, an associate professor of otolaryngology, showed that the hair cells are consistent with wild type or endogenous hair cells, meaning the cells appear to be functional.

"It remains to be determined whether gene transfer into a deaf mouse will lead to the production of healthy cells that enable hearing. However, we have made an important step toward defining an approach that may lead to therapeutic intervention for hearing loss," Brigande said.

Visit www.nature.com/nature/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nature07265.html for more information about the paper.

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