New discovery into age-related hearing loss

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) -- Researchers have found a new potential contributor to age-related hearing loss, which may help doctors identify people who are at risk.

The discovery was made at the University of Virginia School of medicine, focusing on the foundations of the auditory receptors of the inner ear, called hair cells, that pick up sounds through antenna that sense vibrations.

Most research has focused on the hair bundle and the antenna, but this finding suggests there is a genetic predisposition that can cause the "cuticular plate," which is what that foundation is called, to weaken over time.

Research Jung-Bum Shin, PhD, says defects in the cuticular plate appear to lead to progressive hearing loss as time passes because of the importance of it regarding the ability of the hair cells to detect sound.

His team determined to look into a particular gene, called Lmo7, which is vital for the plant's stability, in mice.

When they blocked the gene's effects, the mice gradually developed the hearing loss.

The researchers say, without the gene, the cuticular plate is not as strong as it should be, and when the body notices the problem, overall function begins to deteriorate.

Researchers say Lmo7 is present in all vertebrates, suggesting that mutations in it could lead to age-related hearing loss in people.

Shin suspects other genes and factors likely play a role as well because age-related hearing loss can be caused by many issues such as exposure to loud noise and the consumption of certain drugs.

The researchers say doctors may someday be able to screen people for their genetic risk for hearing loss, and then take actions sooner once it manifests.

For now, Shin and his team will continue looking into the effect of Lmo7, especially when considering genetic risk combined with other risk factors like harmful noise.

The findings were published in the scientific journal Nature Communications.

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