Scientist discover a new gene linked to hearing
Post on 5th April 2016
Ground breaking research being conducted by King’s College London and the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute has identified a gene that plays a vital role in our hearing.
The gene called Wbp2 effects the biological pathways controlled by the hormone, oestrogen. Oestrogen is not only vital for women but men too, and regulates the signalling between nerves. Wbp2 has to be present to allow oestrogen to switch on these pathways and when it’s missing or not working properly, oestrogen is not able to activate certain processes.
This was theory was tested on mice, who when they had the Wbp2 removed developed a high frequency hearing loss. Everything else was normal, so further research is underway to better understand the role that Wbp2 plays in terms of our hearing and what it actually does in the ear.
On closer inspection, the researchers discovered that the sound detecting hair cells within the ear were normal. However, the connections (synapses) between the hair cells and auditory nerve fibres that carry sound signals from the ear to the brain were abnormal, proving the importance of Wbp2 for our hearing.
The researchers also identified two children affected by severe to profound deafness who had changes in the Wbp2 gene, suggesting that, like in the mouse, this gene is important for hearing in people too.
It is early days in terms of research and developing a treatment, but by understanding the role of Wbp2 and oestrogen in hearing could help identify if people with particular types of hearing loss would benefit from an oestrogen-based therapy.