Deafness-causing protein deficiency makes brain rewire itself, research suggests – Medical Xpress

Credit: Oregon State University

The brains of people with congenital deafness may be rewiring themselves in ways that affect how those people learn, suggesting a need to develop new teaching techniques tailored toward those who have never been able to hear.

Published today in Nature Scientific Reports, the findings by an Oregon State University research collaboration make the case that a protein mutation that causes profound hearing loss also alters the growth and wiring of certain neurons—cells that act as the building blocks of the nervous system.

While scientists continue looking for molecular therapies that may someday restore the hearing of those who carry the mutation, the research led by Colin Johnson of the OSU College of Science also has implications for improving the lives of people whose hearing can’t come back.

“We hope this work is a step toward treatment, and also toward better schemes for those who are deaf, for interacting with them and teaching them,” said Johnson, associate professor of biochemistry and biophysics. “People who are born deaf, their quality of life may be severely affected. They tend to drop out of high school at higher rates and generally not attain as high a level of education, and their incomes are not as great. We’re working hard on the biology of deafness and also trying to work our research into the other areas to come up with new ways of improving things.”

This research builds on earlier findings by Johnson that developed a new way of quantitatively studying the large protein, known as otoferlin, whose sole role is to encode sound in the sensory hair cells in the inner ear.

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