Responsible for our sense of hearing and balance, the inner ear is a tiny but crucial structure. Light microscopy images of the inner ear in mouse embryos reveal an intricate bony network supporting sensory hair cells in the vestibular canals (the thin arches in the top half of the pictures), which detect movements of the head, and in the cochlea (the coil at the bottom), which allow us to perceive sound. Any changes in this sensitive structure are likely to cause problems, making it ideal for exploring the roles of specific genes [protein codes] during development. Recent research into one protein family, the Lrigs, has revealed that they act together to build the inner ear. For example, it can develop normally without one Lrig protein, such as Lrig2 (pictured left, compared to a normal mouse ear pictured right), while loss of several Lrigs leads to physical defects and abnormal behaviour.
Written by Emmanuelle Briolat
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