Researchers have long sought the missing link in the ear's conversion of sound waves into electrical signals that the brain can recognize as distinct sounds. In a study published yesterday in an online edition of the journal Nature, Harvard Medical School neurobiologist David Corey and 15 collaborators found a prime candidate in a tiny channel located at the tips of the inner ear's unusual hair cells - a channel shared among humans, mice, fish and even fruit flies. "It's something we've been looking for, for 20 years," said Corey, reports Newsday.
According to Medical News Today, when we hear, sound waves vibrate the eardrum. As soon as the eardrum vibrates, the ossicles (tiny bones) start to move. The vibrations continues into the oval window (very thin tissue located at the entrance of the inner ear). Wave like motions that take place in a fluid in the cochlea (looks like a little snail). In the cochlea there are thousands of tiny hair cells, these are connected to nerves. The nerves pass electrical impulses to the brain which processes the information, and so we "hear".
We have never understood how these tiny hair cells can convert &to=http://english.pravda.ru/mailbox/22/101/399/12677_Bush.html' target=_blank>sound waves into signals that reach the brain (electrical signals). It seems that now, maybe we do.
The scientists at Harvard, after experimenting with mice and zebrafish, say the protein TRPA1 allows this conversion to happen.
TRPA1 resides on the very tips of these tiny hair cells. Hair cells that did not have TRPA1 on their tips did not convert the vibrations into electrical impulses, i.e. mice/zebrafish whose hair cells had no TRPA1 were deaf.
The discovery of the protein called TRPA1, in the United States, could also lead to better treatments for patients with hearing problems.