Research Related to Hearing Loss Funded by NIH

Associate Investigator Tatjana Piotrowski, PhD, has been awarded a highly competitive grant totaling more than $1.7 million over five years. The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders of the National Institutes of Health awarded the grant for Piotrowski’s research on zebrafish sensory hair cell regeneration.

Hearing disorders due to sensory hair cell loss are the most common sensory disorders in humans. Unfortunately, mammalian inner ear hair cells do not regenerate and thus hearing loss is permanent. In contrast to mammals, fish regenerate hair cells throughout life. Zebrafish possess hair cells in their ears and also in their sensory lateral line system, which detects water movement. Despite their location on the trunk, lateral line hair cells develop and differentiate by developmental mechanisms very similar to those used by ear hair cells.

Building upon previous work, the Piotrowski Lab will investigate the gene regulatory networks that underlie hair cell regeneration by utilizing a powerful assay that the group developed that allows the functional interrogation of gene interactions that regulate the balance of progenitor cell self-renewal and differentiation at the single cell level. The single-cell analysis is powerful because it allows detection of heterogeneity in support cells that is masked in bulk analyses of these cells.

Piotrowski says that intimate knowledge of these interactions is crucial for the development of strategies aimed at inducing proliferation and hair cell regeneration and restoring a functional sensory system in mammals.