sea anemone hearing loss

Could Sea Anemone Proteins Hold the Key to Reversing Hearing Damage?

LAFAYETTE, LOUISIANA – Researchers at the University of Louisiana have discovered that sea anemone proteins can repair damaged mouse cochlear hair cells. Their results were published this week in the Journal of Experimental Biology.

Sea anemones, which are able to detect passing prey using their vibration-sensitive hair cells covering their tentacles, have the amazing capacity to rebuild and restore parts of their body—such as during reproduction, when the creatures split in half.

According to Glen Watson, one of the lead researchers of the study, “It occurred to me that if any animal could recover from damage to its hair bundles, anemones would be the ones”.


Amazing Ability to Repair Damaged Cells


After discovering that sea anenome can repair injured hair cells in less than 10 minutes, Watson and fellow researcher, Pei-Ciao Tang, decided to find out what effect the restorative proteins used by sea anemone might have on damaged mouse cochlear cells.

Microscopic look at damaged inner ear hair cells (stereocilia)

The investigators dissected tiny mouse cochleae to cultured cells needed for their experiment. The cells were placed in an environment lacking calcium for 15 minutes, replicating the damage that is caused by loud noise in mammalian cochlea, such as what happens to noise exposed workers. Significant cell damage was noted post exposure, with “stereocilia splayed rather than occurring in well-organized bundles.”

Damaged stereocilia were exposed to the repair proteins found within the tentacles of the sea anemone. After an hour of exposure to the proteins, the hair cells had recovered significantly.


Potential For Human Hearing


Following the promising results of the experiment, the researchers looked into the mouse genome and found evidence that mice produce many proteins which are closely related to the sea anemone repair proteins.  This suggests that it may be possible to recreate a similar repair mechanism in other mammals.

While the research is still in a very early stage, results hold promise as a possible means of restoring hearing in humans eventually.


Source: JOE, Phys; images courtesy oceanwildthings, Brycehearingservice