Changes in the Developing Brain May Provide Insight into Hearing Loss

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March, 2012 — Stephen Maricich, MD, PhD, of Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, is looking at how a geneactive in the auditory regions of the brain during embryonic development may affect hearing and hearing loss.

His research, funded by the AHRF for 2012, focuses on the role of a gene called En1. This gene plays a role in the development of a region of the brain called the superior olivary complex (SOC). The SOC processes information from the cochlea and uses it to locate sounds in space. Maricich will look at how the selective deletion of En1in mouse models affects the developing auditory system and how it might influence how the SOC connects to other auditory neurons.

Previously, researchers used surgical ablation techniques to study how cutting out various auditory neurons affected hearing. Genetic deletion is much more specific and eliminatescollateral damage caused by cutting, which can influence results. In earlier research, Maricich found that En1 appeared to play an important role during embryonic development of the SOC.In his current research, he will further investigate the role of En1 and hearing.

“Describing how En1 works in the developing auditory system and how it influences connectivity of hearing neurons between the brain and inner ear will help lay a foundation for understanding how abnormalities in this gene may contribute to hearing loss,” says Maricich.