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The Gatekeeper of Human Hearing Finally Uncovered After a 40-year Quest By Scientists

by | Aug 24, 2018 | Local News, Patient Resources

If I asked you to explain how human hearing works, could you get down to the nuts and bolts of it? You’d probably mention the ears, maybe hair cells in the ear, and then what? Truth be told, even if you asked a scientist how humans hear they wouldn’t have been able to tell you exactly how, that is until now.

Researchers at Harvard Medical School and Boston’s Children’s Hospital have nailed down what they believe to be the protein that allows us all to hear and balance: TMC1. This revelation, published in the scientific journal Neuron, ends a 40-year quest to uncover the identity of this protein.

So how does TMC1 help us hear?

It all comes down to hair cells in the ear. These cells have bristles on their tops, which look like hairs. When these ‘hairs’ are moved by vibrations caused by sound or by our head movements, the cells send electrical signals to the brain. Our brain then deciphers these signals and that results in our ability to hear things and balance ourselves.

But how does moving hairs turn into electrical signals? That’s where TMC1 comes in. It sits on the tops of the hair cells and detects sounds or movements. When this happens, it opens a gate that lets calcium ions into the cells. This triggers electrical signals to the brain. So, TMC1 is literally the gatekeeper to our hearing.

What does this mean for hearing loss?

Malformed TMC1 causes hearing loss in humans. Now researchers know where TMC lives and how it works, treatments can be developed to target it. This gives researchers hope that hearing loss caused by malformed TMC1 can become a thing of the past. More than that, discovering what TMC1 does helps researchers better understand how all the nuts and bolts of hearing in humans fit together. This brings us one step closer to treating all kinds of hearing loss.

It’s definitely an exciting time for hearing research.

At Beltone Hearing, we’ll be watching the latest developments and keeping you up to date. And while those researchers are hard at work finding a cure for hearing loss, we at Beltone Hearing will continue to provide effective hearing solutions to improve the hearing health of our clients.

Full news story from Harvard’s official website, here.

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