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Scaling the wall of deafness
Date:4/14/2009

in the normal development and survival of cells in the inner ear and are necessary for proper hearing," says Prof. Avraham. "Until now science only knew that mutations in protein-coding genes caused deafness. We went a layer deeper and discovered that the loss of microRNAs leads to deafness as well."

A Cure a Hair Away?

MicroRNAs can already be used to predict what kind of cancer a person may have, and will have both diagnostic and therapeutic applications in hearing loss in the near future, Prof. Avraham hopes.

The most common disability in humans, doctors still don't know what causes hearing loss in most people, but they do know where the process starts to break down. For some reason, there is an abnormal development or wearing down of specialized sensory cells, called hair cells located in the inner ear. Responsible for translating sounds to electrical pulses that the brain can interpret, when we lose these cells, we lose our ability to hear.

In the new study, developed with an international team including Prof. Avraham's post-doctoral fellow Dr. Lilach M. Friedman, Israeli researchers and those from Purdue University, the scientists sought to see what would happen if they stopped the formation of all or some microRNAs in the ears of a mouse and fish.

Making an Audible Difference

They "knocked-down" or blocked the functioning of the microRNA molecules, and as a result, the hair cells degenerated in the mouse ears. A few weeks later the mice became profoundly deaf, suggesting that a lack of normal microRNAs might lead to progressive hearing loss in people that were born with normal hearing, as well, says Prof. Avraham. The work in fish suggests that microRNA mutations may also cause abnormal development of the inner ear in embryos and deafness in newborns.

MicroRNAs are tiny pieces of RNA, the chemical building blocks that carries genetic information between DNA, to becoming proteins.
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Contact: George Hunka
ghunka@aftau.org
212-742-9070
American Friends of Tel Aviv University
Source:Eurekalert  

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