05 October 2009

Micro RNA - Molecule key to hearing

If micro RNA in inner ear hair cells are blocked or mutate, hearing is lost. New discoveries about the importance of micro RNA could result in long-term gains for hearing impaired people.

Most of us have never heard of micro RNA. These microscopic molecules in our cells were unknown until 1992. Today, scientists are discovering the importance of micro RNA, not least for our hearing.

Micro RNA are key to genetic activity. Micro RNA are our gene switches, activating or deactivating the genes and affecting cell formation.

Well-functioning inner ear hair cells are crucial for good hearing. The development and survival of the hair cells are regulated by micro RNA. Consequently, retardation of inner ear micro DNA formation adversely affects hearing. This was confirmed in experiments with mice and fish conducted by scientists at Tel Aviv University at Tel Aviv, Israel.

RNA based therapies
British and Spanish researchers have reported that a micro RNA mutation can cause hearing loss. As the first scientists ever the researchers identified a micro RNA mutation. The identified mutation was found in the inner ear. It was determined by the scientists to be controlling several genes and to be an underlying cause of progressive hearing loss.

The mapping of how micro RNA regulate hearing cells has only just begun. Some day, this new science may lead to micro RNA based therapies to treat hearing loss.

Sources: www.aftau.org; www.sanger.ac.uk

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