You Need Hair to Hear

Genetic mutation stunts inner ear hairs needed for hearing

January 25, 2011 / Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

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(dailyRx News) Scientists have pinpointed a genetic mutation that causes deafness by stunting the development of important inner ear hairs and nerve cells vital for hearing.

A study from the University of Sheffield has identified a genetic mutation that is responsible for deafness. This abnormality affects the hair cells located in the inner ear that send electrical signals to the brain to enable hearing.

By studying mice, the team of researchers singled out a group that carried a mutation in a gene called miR-96. As a result, inner ear hair cells stopped developing at birth. Not only are the hairs themselves stunted, but the base nerve cells that are responsible for carrying auditory signals to the brain.

Because miR-96 can be targeted with drugs, this research may lead the way towards developing new treatments for hearing loss. Dr. Walter Marcotti calls these findings "new and exciting" and hopes these findings can be used to help people of all ages coping with impaired hearing.

Of the roughly 307 million Americans in the U.S., about 36 million have some hearing loss and the statistics grow with age: 18 percent of people between 45 and 64 report hearing impairments, while 47 percent of adults aged 75 and older suffer from hearing loss. In addition to gradual hearing loss, many children are born completely deaf or with impaired hearing. Around 3 out of every 1,000 children in the United States are born this way.