Gene discovery reveals a critical protein’s function in hearing

Lab mouseDiscovery of a deafness-causing gene defect in mice has helped identify a new protein that protects sensory cells in the ear, according to a study by University of Iowa and Kansas State University researchers. The findings appear in the August 21 issue of the open-access journal PLoS Genetics.

In humans, hereditary deafness is one of the most common birth defects, yet most genes involved in hearing are unidentified. Mice are used as research models because mouse and human auditory genetics are very similar.

Using a deaf mouse model generated at The Jackson Laboratory, the team identified the deafness-causing defect in the claudin-9 gene. The mutated gene fails to produce normal claudin-9 protein, which, the UI team showed, is needed to maintain the proper distribution of potassium in the inner ear.

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