The sensory epithelia of the inner ear are composed of mechanosensory ‘hair’ cells and supporting cells, organised into a checkerboard-like pattern. Hair cells are essential for hearing and their loss after exposure to excessive noise (watch your iPods!) and during ageing is the main cause of deafness in humans. This is because in the mammalian auditory organ, the full complement of hair cells is produced during embryonic development. In contrast, reptiles, fish and birds can regenerate their hair cells throughout adult life. In these species, the supporting cells act as ‘tissue stem cells’ following hair cell loss. Supporting cells can i) re-enter the cell cycle to produce new hair cells and supporting cells, or ii) convert directly into replacement hair cells.
What are the molecular signals and genetic networks controlling hair cell formation and regeneration? And could these be manipulated to promote regenerative processes in the mammalian ear?
Research in my lab aims to provide some answers to these questions, using a range of cellular and molecular approaches and functional studies in vivo and in vitro.
Funders: BBSRC, Deafness Research UK, Action on Hearing Loss