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NIDCD Hightlights

Zebrafish as Screening Tool for Genes, Drugs that Protect Against Hearing Loss

Zebrafish
Zebrafish photo courtesy of Kelly Grant,
University of Washington

A small striped fish is helping scientists understand what makes people susceptible to a common form of hearing loss. But, it’s not the fish’s ears that are of interest. In this case, scientists are relying on a zebrafish’s lateral line—the faint line running down each side of the fish that enables it to sense its surroundings—to quickly screen for genes and chemical compounds that protect against hearing loss from some medications.

The study, conducted by senior scientists Edwin Rubel, Ph.D., David Raible, Ph.D., and their research team at the University of Washington, was published in the Feb. 29 issue of the journal PLoS Genetics.

When people are exposed to some antibiotics and chemotherapy agents, the sensory structures in the inner ear, called hair cells, can be irreversibly damaged, resulting in hearing loss and balance problems. People vary widely in their susceptibility to these agents as well as to damage caused by other chemical agents, loud sounds, and aging. To find out why, the researchers developed a screening strategy that uses hair cells in the lateral line of zebrafish larvae to signal how hair cells in a person’s inner ear might respond under similar conditions.

Read the NIDCD news release.