The Hearing Pathway
Sound causes eardrum vibrations that are transmitted to the inner ear by the bones in the middle ear. Vibrations in the inner ear are transformed by sensory cells, known as hair cells, into electrical signals that are sent to the brain. Hearing loss is caused by damage to any part of the hearing pathway from the eardrum to the brain. Most hearing impairment arises from defects in the inner ear. Hair cells die owing to age, genetic defects, loud sounds, toxic chemicals, and infections and are not replaced by the body, leading to irreversible hearing loss. By discovering how hearing works, we are developing multiple new approaches to diagnose and treat hearing loss, including protecting and regenerating hair cells, treating infections, and repairing damage to the inner ear.