New York: Boosting the production of a key protein, called NT3, could help restore hearing loss caused by noise exposure and normal ageing, a research found.
The protein plays an important role in maintaining communication between the ears and brain, the findings showed, offering scientists a target to develop drugs that might boost NT3 action or production.
"We began this work 15 years ago to answer very basic questions about the inner ear, and now we have been able to restore hearing after partial deafening with noise, a common problem for people," said lead researcher Gabriel Corfas from the University of Michigan in the US.
NT3 is crucial to the body's ability to form and maintain connections between hair cells in the ear and nerve cells that carry signal to the brain, the researchers demonstrated.
This special type of connection, called a ribbon synapse, allows extra-rapid communication of signals, which travel back and forth across tiny gaps between the two types of cells.
"It has become apparent that hearing loss due to damaged ribbon synapses is a very common and challenging problem, whether it's due to noise or normal ageing," Corfas added.
Using a special genetic technique, the researchers made it possible for some mice to produce additional NT3 in cells of specific areas of the inner ear after they were exposed to noise loud enough to reduce hearing.
Mice with extra NT3 regained their ability to hear much better than the control mice.
The researchers will now explore the role of NT3 in human ears, and seek drugs that might boost NT3 action or production.
The findings appeared online in the journal eLife.