Researchers discover how hair cells repair themselves

Researchers at the University of Virginia School of Medicine have made a significant discovery regarding the self-repair mechanisms of cells responsible for hearing, which could have implications for the treatment and prevention of hearing loss. The hair cells located in the inner ear play a crucial role in both hearing and balance, thanks to their hair-like structures that act as sensory receptors for sound. While these auditory hair cells are typically believed to be irreparable once damaged or destroyed, the new research from UVA Health demonstrates that these delicate cells possess the ability to repair themselves following exposure to loud noises or other forms of stress.

While efforts have long been focused on the regeneration of sensory hair cells, the study emphasizes the importance of understanding the mechanisms underlying their repair and maintenance. Dr. Jung-Bum Shin, a researcher from UVA’s Department of Neuroscience, highlights the significance of comprehending these intrinsic repair processes to develop effective strategies for strengthening them. One potential approach in the future could involve the use of drugs to stimulate the repair of these cells. Dr. Shin suggests that when the replacement of hair cells becomes challenging, the focus should shift towards repairing them instead. This dual strategy of regeneration and repair holds great promise for advancing the treatment of hearing loss and related conditions.

Noise-induced lesions in the F-actin cores of stereocilia is repaired by actin remodeling. Credit: eLife (2023). DOI: 10.7554/eLife.72681

Hearing repair

Hair cells possess inherent fragility, which is essential for their sound-sensing function but also leaves them vulnerable to mechanical stress. Prolonged exposure to loud noises can cause various forms of damage to these hair cells, including harm to their core structures known as stereocilia. In a recent study led by Dr. Jung-Bum Shin, it was revealed that hair cells employ a protein called XIRP2 to initiate the repair process of damaged stereocilia cores.

The research demonstrated that XIRP2 acts as a sensor for core damage and subsequently migrates to the damaged site to facilitate repair by replenishing new actin, the substance that forms the cores. This mechanism not only sheds light on the repair process of hair cells but also contributes to the broader field of cell biology.

Moving forward, Dr. Shin and his team plan to conduct further investigations into the repair of stereocilia cores. Understanding this process will provide valuable insights for the development of innovative approaches to combat hearing loss, including age-related hearing loss. The researchers emphasize that age-related hearing loss affects a significant portion of older adults and that comprehending and harnessing the internal repair mechanisms of hair cells will be crucial in preventing such conditions. Moreover, the knowledge gained from this research holds potential implications for associated conditions like Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.

The findings of this study were published in the scientific journal eLife.

Source: University of Virginia

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