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Neural Insights Could Bring Better Cochlear Implants

Key proteins help relay sound messages to the brain, experts explain

WEDNESDAY, Dec. 19 (HealthDay News) -- A team at Rutgers University in New Jersey say they are working on a better cochlear implant.

Cochlear implants are used to provide at least some degree of hearing for deaf people. The implants are surgically inserted into a structure called the cochlea, located in the inner ear. The results vary from patient to patient. Some are able to hear only loud noises, such as thunder or traffic, while others can hear voices and understand speech.

"The significance of our work lies in the fact that we can change an element in a very peripheral part of the sensory system that can have an impact all the way into the brain," team leader and neuroscientist Robin Davis said in a prepared statement.

"Our studies have revealed that sprial ganglion auditory neurons possess a rich complexity that is only now beginning to be understood," Davis explained.

In this latest research with mouse cochlear tissue cultured in the laboratory, Davis and colleagues found that two neurotrophin proteins in the cochlea -- brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and neurotrophin-3 (NT-3) -- play an important role in the relay of sound messages to the brain.

It may be possible to load such neurotrophins into a specially-designed cochlear implant, which would then release the neurotrophins and improve the transfer of sound messages to the brain.

The findings are published in the Dec. 19 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience.

More information

The U.S. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communications Disorders has more about cochlear implants.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Rutgers University, news release, Dec. 18, 2007

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