Hair, Hair, Everywhere!

What’d you say? I can’t HAIR you!

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

We associate hair coming out our ears with aging… and aging with… well… hearing loss. But could hair in our ears actually make our hearing less… fuzzy?

Our ears actually have MILLIONS of TINY hair cells that help us hear. There are two main kinds. Inner hair cells direct sound to the brain. Outer hair cells help us hear accurately.

Jaime García-Añoveros and team at Northwestern Medicine wanted to grow BOTH cell types. They analyzed mouse ears before and after birth – two critical stages for inner ear development. The team stained messenger molecules, or mRNA, in their hair cells. They identified one gene critical to developing inner hair cells, but not outer ones. They believe that this gene determines a hair cell’s type. 

Previously, researchers couldn’t grow a specific type of hair cell. With this discovery, the team believes they might restore hearing. Our hair deserves a prize. It really is the HAIR-o of our senses! 

Reference: García-Añoveros, J., Clancy, J. C., Foo, C. Z., García-Gómez, I., Zhou, Y., Homma, K., Cheatham, M. A., & Duggan, A. (2022). TBX2 is a master regulator of inner versus outer hair cell differentiation. Nature, 605(7909), 298–303.