Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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The Hearing Gate

Protein identified which converts sounds into nerve signals that are perceived by the brain as 'hearing'

28 September 2018

The Hearing Gate

Coiled into this green and red shell-shape hidden deep within your inner ear are many tiny hair cells. For years, scientists have known that these cells detect and convert sounds and movements into signals that the brain can understand. However, they hadn’t been able to explain how this happens, until now. A team have recently demonstrated that it’s most likely the responsibility of a sensory protein called TMC1. TMC1 creates a sound and motion-activated ‘gate’ in the inner ear hair cells, which converts mechanical movements into electrical signals. These signals travel along nerves to the appropriate brain region, enabling our hearing and balance. The discovery of a sensory protein like TMC1 is nothing new, since similar molecules have been found for most of our other sensors. However, with the hearing sensory protein now finally identified, in future we may see hearing loss treatments that specifically target this important system.

Written by Gaëlle Coullon

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