Central auditory function of deafness genes

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Abstract

The highly variable benefit of hearing devices is a serious challenge in auditory rehabilitation. Various factors contribute to this phenomenon such as the diversity in ear defects, the different extent of auditory nerve hypoplasia, the age of intervention, and cognitive abilities. Recent analyses indicate that, in addition, central auditory functions of deafness genes have to be considered in this context. Since reduced neuronal activity acts as the common denominator in deafness, it is widely assumed that peripheral deafness influences development and function of the central auditory system in a stereotypical manner. However, functional characterization of transgenic mice with mutated deafness genes demonstrated gene-specific abnormalities in the central auditory system as well. A frequent function of deafness genes in the central auditory system is supported by a genome-wide expression study that revealed significant enrichment of these genes in the transcriptome of the auditory brainstem compared to the entire brain. Here, we will summarize current knowledge of the diverse central auditory functions of deafness genes. We furthermore propose the intimately interwoven gene regulatory networks governing development of the otic placode and the hindbrain as a mechanistic explanation for the widespread expression of these genes beyond the cochlea. We conclude that better knowledge of central auditory dysfunction caused by genetic alterations in deafness genes is required. In combination with improved genetic diagnostics becoming currently available through novel sequencing technologies, this information will likely contribute to better outcome prediction of hearing devices.

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