Scientists spot gene behind hearing loss from aging and loud music

Soniya
Hearing loss and loud music (Image via Unsplash/ Matt Forfar)
Hearing loss and loud music (Image via Unsplash/Matt Forfar)

Researchers have made a significant discovery concerning hearing loss from loud music and aging. The culprit is our own genetic material. Specifically, a gene known as TMTC4 is now under the spotlight, as it's been linked to the occurrence of hearing loss.

Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco found tighter links between a gene, TMTC4, and hearing loss. It turns out that changes in this gene jumpstart a thing called the unfolded protein response.

Why does it matter? Well, it's clear that it plays a big role in the death of small hair cells in the inside ear. So, what's the connection with ears? These tiny hair cells help us hear. When these cells get wiped out, we can end up losing our hearing ability.


Link between noise exposure, ageing and hearing loss

Certain gene is involved (Image via Unsplash/Ashraful Islam)
Certain gene is involved (Image via Unsplash/Ashraful Islam)

Interestingly enough, research shows that not only is the UPR activated by mutations in the TMTC4 gene, but also by exposure to loud noise and certain medications.

If we perceive it in layman's terms, this discovery opens doors to potential prevention of hearing loss and offers a novel approach to dealing with nerve cell-related diseases like Alzheimer’s.

The mechanics of how it happens are pretty fascinating. Our hearing ability can be damaged by several factors: loud noise, aging and certain medications. Until this discovery, solutions to address hearing loss were mainly restricted to using hearing aids or cochlear implants.

However, with this breakthrough, researchers have found that we can dive deeper – right into our genetic code – to understand, and hopefully in time, prevent hearing loss from taking place.

The domino effect is real. (Image via Unsplash/Warren Umoh)
The domino effect is real. (Image via Unsplash/Warren Umoh)

Mutations to the TMTC4 gene set off a kind of molecular domino effect, in the form of the UPR, which subsequently leads to the death of hair cells in the inner ear. These are the cells that play a crucial role in hearing, which explains the direct cause-effect relationship between the domino effect and hearing loss.

While TMTC4 and UPR may sound like abbreviations from a sci-fi movie, in reality, they're part of a puzzle that helps us understand the mysterious and complex world of gene action and reaction.


Millions hit by progressive hearing loss annually

Hearing loss and aging (Image via Unsplash/Anirudh)
Hearing loss and aging (Image via Unsplash/Anirudh)

Where the researchers' findings become even more significant is the potential for further discovery and development of new treatments.

The UCSF researchers found that several drugs that can block the UPR – potentially stopping hearing loss – already exist. With the newfound knowledge of the TMTC4-UPR connection, there's a stronger case for testing these drugs in people likely to lose their hearing.

Progressive hearing loss affects millions of American adults each year, often due to noise exposure or aging. Before this research, many of the mechanisms which caused this deterioration remained a mystery.

The link between the TMTC4 gene, noise exposure, aging and certain medications gives researchers a more comprehensive picture of how hearing functions, contributing to prevention efforts and offering more hope for those suffering from hearing loss.

Understanding the role of TMTC4 opens a new perspective on progressive deafness. As this gene plays a role in maintaining the health of the adult inner ear, its mutations mimic damage caused by noise, aging and certain medications.

The new road for researchers is to develop ways to override this gene's negative impact and maintain healthy hair cells in the ear to preserve hearing.


Perhaps in the not-so-distant future, those exposed to loud noises in their jobs or undergoing chemotherapy with drugs known to damage hearing may be able to take medication to dampen the UPR and maintain their hearing more effectively.

Edited by Bhargav
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