Insight into hearing damage – learning from the regenerative powers of fish
Loud music, fireworks, even the lawnmower all make enough noise to permanently damage the delicate hair cells in your inner ear, which are essential for hearing. The mechanisms behind this aren’t fully understood. Researchers now use zebrafish embryos to model what happens during noise-induced hearing loss. Strong water waves were used to damage the zebrafish equivalent of inner ear hair cells – neuromasts. Fluorescence microscopy and scanning electron microscopy (pictured) revealed that compared with embryos not exposed to strong water waves (top), hair cells were deformed (bottom). Nerve cells also shrunk back and lost contacts with neuromasts, even in those that appeared intact. These changes are in line with what is known to occur in noise-exposed human inner ears. As zebrafish have great regenerative abilities, the neuromasts recovered within hours. This model, therefore, provides a way to investigate noise-induced hearing loss and whether the repair mechanisms could be translated to humans.
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