Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Getting into Shape

Insight into the development of the tiny hair-like structures of the inner ear that respond to mechanical vibration

26 January 2020

Getting into Shape

During development, the precise shape and position of our organs depends not only on genetic blueprints, but also on a multitude of feedback loops, linking form and function to fine-tune results. Recent research suggests this occurs in the inner ear’s hair cells, responsible for our hearing, as their ability to produce signals shapes their particular form. Within these cells, bundles of hair-like stereocilia bend in response to vibrations in the air, opening and closing channels that control the flow of ions into the cell. This process of signal transduction changes the cell’s electrical charge, producing electrical signals for the brain. Pictured in a mouse’s inner ear, stereocilia are precisely arranged in a stepped formation, but this design is lost if transduction is blocked, as stereocilia fail to widen and lengthen appropriately. Adding to our understanding of inner ear development, this could help researchers working towards therapies to alleviate hearing loss.

Written by Emmanuelle Briolat

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