Might crocodiles provide a big clue to hearing loss cure?

 

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A new study by scientists at Sweden’s Uppsala University suggests that members of the crocodile family have the ability to generate new elements of their hearing systems, raising hope of finding new cures for sensorineural deafness in humans.

This latest study, published in the journal Frontiers in Cell and Developmental Biology, looks specifically at Cuban and African Dwarf Crocodile species, using confocal microscopy to examine the fine structure of the basilar papilla, while also carrying out a deep study of protein/transcription factor expression. The findings suggest that crocodilians seem to produce new hair cells during their life span from a range of supporting cells.

Also observed was a “remarkable” renewal of the cochlea’s acellular tectorial membrane, whose exact function in auditory health is still not fully understood.

Auditory receptors undergo cell renewal after damage in several non-mammalian species. Like birds, crocodiles communicate through a rich vocal repertoire, although these reptiles are adapted to understand sounds in both air and water.

These Uppsala researchers point out that if they can come near to achieving their aim of developing a way to restore hearing in humans, they need to fully understand the mechanisms behind the apparent regenerative capacity of the crocodilian auditory system. Their research has led them to postulate that dying hair cells might signal via the brain to trigger a process in which efferent nerve fibres play a support role in regeneration.

“Intercellular signaling may be accomplished by elaborate gap junction and organelle systems, including neural emperipolesis,” the study specifies.

Source: Frontiers in Cell and Developmental Biology

P.W.