The hearing depends on a special protein deep in the ear, according to research at the Harvard Medical School. The discovery may open the way to better treatment of hearing loss and deafness.
The scientists examined the hearing in mice and found the protein called TRPA1 on the tip of the small inner ear hair cells, which detect the vibrations from the sound.
The discovery may help explain how the hair cells convert sound to the electrical impulses, which in the human brain are interpreted into, for instance, recognizable speech.
"Identifying it is getting at the real kernel of how the inner ear works", Professor David Corey, a member of the research team, explained to BBC News.
Without the special protein the hair cells are unable to respond to the vibrations of the sound in the ear, thus failing to produce the required electrical signals to the brain.
The scientists believe that the results will allow for the development of new treatments for hearing loss and deafness.
The findings were published in the highly regarded science journal, Nature.
Source: www.bbc.co.uk, 13.10.2004.
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