A gene therapy approach to replace lost hair cells in the inner ear can improve hearing in deaf mammals, according to a report in the March issue of Nature Medicine.
Permanent hearing loss is frequently caused by loss of sensory hair cells due to ageing, infection or other causes. Now, Yehoash Raphael and colleagues show that a viral vector expressing a developmental regulatory gene called Atoh1 can induce new hairs to grow in the cochleas of deafened guinea pigs. The treatment seemed to work by inducing differentiated non-sensory cells to change their phenotype. This hair-cell regeneration improved the hearing of the animals.
The findings suggest that gene therapy based on expressing developmental genes could be a promising approach to repairing damaged sensory tissue in the inner ear and other sensory systems.
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