Researchers at King’s College London in the UK have discovered that defects in a structure called the stria vascularis within the inner ear could cause progressive hearing loss. Progressive hearing loss is often associated with the gradual loss of sound-detecting sensory hair cells within the inner ear.
Associated with gene mutations
It was the investigation of why mice with a specific mutation in a gene called S1pr2 have a progressive loss of hearing that led the researchers to the discovery. In humans, the gene is also associated with changes in people’s ability to hear – making the discovery significantly relevant to the research on progressive hearing loss in the human population.
By studying the mice, the researchers found that degeneration of the stria vascularis and a low endocochlear potential correlated with the loss of hearing. The stria vascularis is essential for normal hearing because it is involved in maintaining the parts of the inner ear which act like a battery to power the transmission of sound signals from the ear to the brain.
New treatment approaches
The findings mark a step towards an increased understanding of progressive hearing loss which may bring the development of new treatment approaches closer.
“Our finding suggests that designing treatments to boost the function of the stria vascularis could be important in treating some forms of progressive hearing loss. What is needed now are accurate ways of diagnosing what part of the ear is affected so that in the future the most appropriate treatment can be administered,” says Professor Karen Steel at King’s College London in the UK who led the research.
The study was funded by UK charity Action on Hearing Loss.