Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Firm molecular handshake needed for hearing and balance

Date:
November 7, 2012
Source:
Harvard Medical School
Summary:
Researchers have mapped the precise 3-D atomic structure of a thin protein filament critical for cells in the inner ear and calculated the force necessary to pull it apart. These findings show the characteristics of the most vulnerable area of a structure called the tip link, and open avenues for research in fields related to noise-induced hearing loss and certain genetic diseases.

Researchers have mapped the precise 3-D atomic structure of a thin protein filament critical for cells in the inner ear and calculated the force necessary to pull it apart.

Related Articles


In a study to be published November 7 in the journal Nature, a group led by David Corey, HMS professor of neurobiology, and Rachelle Gaudet, professor of molecular and cellular biology in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University, revealed the characteristics of the most vulnerable area of a structure called the tip link. Their findings open avenues for research in fields related to noise-induced hearing loss and certain genetic diseases.

"Tip links are absolutely vital to hair cells, and hair cells are absolutely vital for hearing and balance," said Corey. "We now have this new understanding of how noise can break a tip link and potentially cause a hearing problem."

The sensations of hearing and balance rely on hair cells, a family of cells located in the inner ear. Crucial to their function are tip links, strings of protein that physically connect the cilia or "hairs" found on these cells. When the cilia move in response to sensory stimuli -- head movement or the vibration of sound, for example -- tension is applied to the tip links, which begins a process that ultimately sends nerve impulses to the brain.

Tip links are composed of two different types of proteins called cadherins, which connect in the middle to make one long string. Mutations in these proteins often result in congenital deafness and balance disorders. Scientists have only recently made strides toward understanding the nature of these cadherins, especially at their connection to each other -- hypothesized to be the first area to break under stress.

To test this, Marcos Sotomayor, first author on the paper and a postdoctoral researcher in the lab of David Corey, investigated the structure of that bond.

He first synthesized and purified a large amount of the very ends of the proteins, where they connect. After crystallizing the purified proteins bound to each other, the team took advantage of powerful X-rays generated by a 3000-foot long electron accelerator at Argonne National Laboratory.

When X-ray light passes through a highly ordered crystal, it creates a regular diffraction pattern that can be used to reveal the structure of the proteins forming the crystal.

Sotomayor analyzed the diffraction pattern generated at Argonne and coupled it with biochemical data. From this, he created a complete 3-D map of the structure of bonded region, down to the position of each individual atom.

The map revealed that the two different cadherins bonded like two hands gripping each other's wrists. This molecular handshake was not mediated by calcium ions, as had been hypothesized, but it showed an intimate and extended interface not seen before in cadherin-cadherin bonding.

With this precise 3-D structure, the team used supercomputers to simulate the dynamics of these proteins under a variety of conditions, including applying forces to pull the bond apart. They found that it takes only half as much force to break the connection as it does to unfold the cadherins themselves -- confirming that the bond is indeed the weakest region of the tip link. They suggest the tip link is strong enough to withstand normal sound, but the connection is likely the first to break under loud noises.

They also showed how certain mutations that produce deafness could weaken the bond, perhaps allowing it to come apart even with quiet sound.

The group plans to characterize tip-link structure further, moving on to other parts such as where the cadherins link to tension-activated ion channels at the tips of the hair cells' cilia.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Harvard Medical School. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Marcos Sotomayor, Wilhelm A. Weihofen, Rachelle Gaudet, David P. Corey. Structure of a force-conveying cadherin bond essential for inner-ear mechanotransduction. Nature, 2012; DOI: 10.1038/nature11590

Cite This Page:

Harvard Medical School. "Firm molecular handshake needed for hearing and balance." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 7 November 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/11/121107132906.htm>.
Harvard Medical School. (2012, November 7). Firm molecular handshake needed for hearing and balance. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 19, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/11/121107132906.htm
Harvard Medical School. "Firm molecular handshake needed for hearing and balance." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/11/121107132906.htm (accessed December 19, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Health & Medicine News

Friday, December 19, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

The Best Tips to Curb Holiday Carbs

The Best Tips to Curb Holiday Carbs

Buzz60 (Dec. 19, 2014) It's hard to resist those delicious but fattening carbs we all crave during the winter months, but there are some ways to stay satisfied without consuming the extra calories. Vanessa Freeman (@VanessaFreeTV) has the details. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
Sierra Leone Bikers Spread the Message to Fight Ebola

Sierra Leone Bikers Spread the Message to Fight Ebola

AFP (Dec. 19, 2014) More than 100 motorcyclists hit the road to spread awareness messages about Ebola. Nearly 7,000 people have now died from the virus, almost all of them in west Africa, according to the World Health Organization. Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Researchers Test Colombian Village With High Alzheimer's Rates

Researchers Test Colombian Village With High Alzheimer's Rates

AFP (Dec. 19, 2014) In Yarumal, a village in N. Colombia, Alzheimer's has ravaged a disproportionately large number of families. A genetic "curse" that may pave the way for research on how to treat the disease that claims a new victim every four seconds. Duration: 02:42 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Double-Amputee Becomes First To Move Two Prosthetic Arms With His Mind

Double-Amputee Becomes First To Move Two Prosthetic Arms With His Mind

Buzz60 (Dec. 19, 2014) A double-amputee makes history by becoming the first person to wear and operate two prosthetic arms using only his mind. Jen Markham has the story. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins