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NIDCD Highlights

‘Holy Grail’ of Hearing: True Identity of Pivotal Hearing Structure Is Revealed

Top: Scanning electron microscopy shows the stair-step
pattern of stereocilia. Bottom: Fluorescence microscopy
image shows the presence of CDH23 (green) at the
point where each short stereocilium (red) meets the side
of its taller neighbor.
Credit: B. Kachar, NIDCD

Our ability to hear is made possible by way of a Rube Goldberg-style process in which sound vibrations entering the ear shake and jostle a successive chain of structures until, lo and behold, they are converted into electrical signals that can be interpreted by the brain. Exactly how the electrical signal is generated has been the subject of ongoing research interest.

In a study published recently in the journal Nature, researchers of NIDCD and the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, CA, have shed new light on the hearing process by identifying two key proteins that join together at the precise location where energy of motion is turned into electrical impulses. The discovery is described by some scientists as one of the holy grails of the field.  

Read the press release.