Research Fellows Directory
Dr Walter Marcotti
University of Sheffield
The main task of auditory sensory hair cells is to convert sound information into an electrical signal that can be transmitted to the brain. This is an extremely demanding task considering that information encoded in sound (e.g. frequency and intensity) has to be processed with temporal precision. Hair cells are named after the hair-like elements called stereocilia that project from their surface. Sound-induced vibration of stereocilia initiates the conversion of sound into an electrical signal, which is generated by the movement of inorganic ions through channels in the stereociliar membrane. This signal induces the release of chemicals at specialised junctions (synapses) that activate auditory nerve fibres n order to relay the information to the brain. Inner ear development is an intricate process involving specific physiological and morphological changes that occur over “critical periods” of development. The proposed project will provide an understanding of key biological processes that underlie cochlear function and development. Moreover, the work pursued in my laboratory is aimed to find the relevant determinants involved in hearing loss in humans.
An understanding of mammalian cochlear function and maturation is vital to support research aimed to define the causes of hearing loss and the development of a cure. Gene and stem cell therapies are currently being explored for potential regenerative therapies. However, it is important to understand not only the mechanisms of cell differentiation but also those of functional maturation for such therapies to be successful. Knowledge of how the ear develops and processes sound could also be informative to further technical and software development of hearing aids, including cochlear implants. The social and economic benefits could potentially contribute to the management and treatment of hearing loss that costs the UK billions of pounds annually (WHO).
Interests and expertise (Subject groups)