Detection of Protein Helps with Hearing and Balance
After 40 years, Harvard Medical School scientists have identified a protein known as TMC1. This protein transfers sound and head movements into electronic signals, which are utilized by the brain to preserve balance and hearing.
Earlier research indicated that mutations in TMC1 resulted in deafness, and was the first revelation of a link between hearing and balance. That research studied the impact of proteins that allow ions such as calcium and potassium to enter the inner ear cells. This helps the cells translate sounds and head movements to send signals to the brain. Limited information was known about which proteins helped ions enter the cells. The latest discoveries fill in the missing link.
The researchers discovered that their studies showed proof that TMC1 is an important molecular sensor that transforms motion and sound to electrical signals that can be comprehended by the brain.
An Experiment with TMC1
An experiment - using a model of protein TMC1 - was conducted by the researchers. They discovered that there were 17 amino acids that may affect the way the protein functions. The acids were put into TMC protein in mice and observed the effect of movement of charged ions through the pores when reacting to sound.
They discovered 11 that shifted the movement of ions. Five had a substantial effect, which decreased ions by 80%. There was one amino acid that obstructed all of the calcium ions. This indicates that none of the nerve signals had reached the brain.
This took many years to discover because the cochlea is not easily accessible. There are also 16,000 hair cells in the ear, so that makes it difficult to examine them.
The Link Between Hearing and Balance
A recent study conducted by Washington University School of Medicine discovered that hearing was vital to maintaining one’s balance. They tested the balance of those who were hard of hearing - once with their hearing aids on and once with their hearing aids out. The participants had poor performances without their hearing aid devices.
Another study by the National Institute of Aging discovered that those who suffered from mild hearing loss were three times more likely to fall than those without hearing loss. For every 10dB that is lost, they are 1.4 percent more likely to fall. Researchers had previously believed that the imbalances were ‘cognitively demanding’. What they did not realize was that the imbalances were caused by TMC1.
Hearing loss alone is not the cause of imbalance issues. It can be caused by a previously existing lack of balance, which is partly responsible for falls. In addition to processing sound, the ear has a vestibular system to help the body preserve its balance.
Further Studies Needed
Scientists will need to focus on TMC1 and how it affects sound-to-signal conversion process. This could indicate possible treatments for some types of hearing loss, which were formerly known to be permanent.
This would transform the lives of 460 million people across the globe. It would have a bigger impact on the 24,000 children who are born with hearing loss in America. Linguistic development is closely related to your hearing health. Helping to cure hearing loss in children at an early age can allow them to learn how to speak as they grow up.
As great as these developments are, if you or a loved one have been or are currently suffering from hearing loss, please contact us at Pure Sound Hearing Aids to schedule a free hearing test and consultation.