New Hearing Hair Cells: The Role of a Protein

Researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine have conducted a study that has determined the role that a critical protein plays in the development of hair cells. Hearing relies on the proper functioning of specialized cells within the inner ear called hair cells.

Researchers have been focusing on describing the developmental steps that lead to a functional hair cell, in order to potentially generate new hair cells when old ones are damaged.

To conduct her latest study, Dr. Hertzano and her team utilized cutting-edge methods to study gene expression in the hair cells of genetically modified newborn mice that did not produce GFI1. They demonstrated that, in the absence of this vital protein, embryonic hair cells failed to progress in their development to become fully functional adult cells.

“Our findings explain why GFI1 is critical to enable embryonic cells to progress into functioning adult hair cells,” said Dr. Hertzano. “These data also explain the importance of GFI1 in experimental protocols to regenerate hair cells from stem cells. These regenerative methods have the potential of being used for patients who have experienced hearing loss due to age or environmental factors like exposure to loud noise.”

“Hearing research has been going through a Renaissance period, not only from advances in genomics and methodology, but also thanks to its uniquely collaborative nature among researchers,” said Dr. Herzano.

“This is an exciting new finding that underscores the importance of basic research to lay the foundation for future clinical innovations,” said E. Albert Reece, MD, PhD, MBA, Executive Vice President for Medical Affairs, UM Baltimore.


Maggie S. Matern, Beatrice Milon, Erika L. Lipford, Mark McMurray, Yoko Ogawa, Andrew Tkaczuk, Yang Song, Ran Elkon, Ronna Hertzano. GFI1 functions to repress neuronal gene expression in the developing inner ear hair cells. Development, 2020; 147 (17): dev186015 DOI: 10.1242/dev.186015

University of Maryland School of Medicine. “Role of protein in development of new hearing hair cells: Finding could lead to future treatments for hearing loss.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 11 September 2020. <>.

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Photo by Mark Paton