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People with DFNA2 hearing loss show increased touch sensitivity
Date:12/9/2011

People with a certain form of inherited hearing loss have increased sensitivity to low frequency vibration, according to a study by Professor Thomas Jentsch of the Leibniz-Institut fr Molekulare Pharmakologie (FMP)/Max Delbrck Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) Berlin-Buch and Professor Gary Lewin (MDC), conducted in cooperation with clinicians from Madrid, Spain and Nijmegen, the Netherlands. The research findings, which were published in Nature Neuroscience (doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nn.2985)*, reveal previously unknown relationships between hearing loss and touch sensitivity: In order to be able to 'feel', specialized cells in the skin must be tuned like instruments in an orchestra.

The members of the Spanish and Dutch families who participated in the study were quite amazed when the researchers from Berlin unpacked their testing equipment. Many of the family members suffer from hereditary DFNA2 hearing loss, but the researchers were less interested in their hearing ability than in their sense of touch. The hearing impairment is caused by a mutation which disrupts the function of many hair cells in the inner ear. This mutation, the researchers suspected, might also affect the sense of touch.

Tiny, delicate hairs in our inner ear vibrate to the pressure of the sound waves. The vibrations cause an influx of positively charged potassium ions into the hair cells. This electric current produces a nerve signal that is transmitted to the brain we hear. The potassium ions flow through a channel in the cell membrane and again out of the hair cells. This potassium channel, a protein molecule called KCNQ4, is destroyed by the mutation in hearing-impaired people. The sensory cells gradually die off due to overload. "But we have found that KCNQ4 is present not only in the ear, but also in some sensory cells of the skin," Thomas Jentsch explained. "This gave us the idea that the mutation might also affect the sense of touch. And this is exa
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Contact: bachtler@mdc-berlin.de
bachtler@mdc-berlin.de
49-309-406-3896
Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres
Source:Eurekalert

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