Benjamin J. Perrin, Ph.D.Assistant Professor, Biology Department, Neuroscience Program
Cell biology of age-related hearing loss
Hearing and balance depend on specialized sensory cells in the inner ear, which are called hair cells because they are topped with an array of thin protrusions known as stereocilia. Stereocilia are primarily made from the cytoskeletal protein actin, and they are organized into a bundle with a very precise architecture.
Deflections of the bundle by sound waves are coupled to ion channel opening, resulting in the conversion of mechanical movement into a neuronal signal. Humans are born with ~20,000 of these sensory cells and they are not renewed.
As a result, hair cell dysfunction and degeneration contribute to many forms of adult onset deafness, including noise-induced and age-related hearing loss. These acquired forms of hearing loss are common and interfere with the ability of people to communicate.
Future therapeutic approaches depend on solving fundamental questions about cytoskeletal cell biology.
My lab studies how the hair cell bundle is maintained and repaired at a molecular level. In particular, we are focused on how the very stable array of actin filaments that form stereocilia are regulated and remodeled to maintain bundle morphology over the lifespan of an organism.