Nerve cells in the inner ear are essential for hearing. That is why hearing difficulties can arise when these nerve cells are damaged.
The way back to better hearing can be replacing the ruined nerve cells with new ones. It is a complicated process which is currently still in the research stage. The new cells are generated from stem cells, and it is here that the protein Sox2 is a major player. The Sox2 protein regulates stem cell formation into spiral ganglion neurons.
"These findings may provide the first step toward regenerating spiral ganglion neurons, the nerve cells that send sound representations to the brain," said Alain Dabdoub, PhD, co-investigator and assistant professor of surgery with the division of otolaryngology at the UC San Diego School of Medicine. "This has significant implications for advances in cochlear implant technology and biological treatments for hearing loss."
Generating new neurons
"The identification of factors that induce functional neurons has important implications for hearing restoration," said Chandrakala Puligilla, PhD, a research fellow at the National Institutes of Health. "The ability to induce even a small number of cells with gene-based therapy could be enormously beneficial." The study demonstrates a novel role for Sox2 in ear development showing that Sox2 is critical for the production of auditory neurons and that generating new neurons is possible.