Sea Anemone Proteins Might Help Reverse Hearing Loss

In a new experiment, scientists healed hair cells in mouse ear tissue

Sea anemones
Sea anemones sometimes damage hair bundles on their tentacles that they use to “hear” nearby prey. Scientists want to use the proteins these animals secrete to repair their hairs to treat hearing loss in people.Flickr user Samuel Chow

Sea anemones might not attend ear-shattering concerts, but like humans they rely on tiny hairs to hear, and like us they sometimes damage these bundles. But unlike people, who are often stuck with hearing loss after sustaining trauma to the hairs in our ears, sea anemones can repair the damage within hours.

A new experiment indicates that the proteins anemones use for this enviable ability might be able to restore hearing in people too. Scientists removed inner ear tissue from mouse pups and then damaged the hairs in some of the samples. Hair bundles in tissue that was soaked in a mixture of anemone proteins for an hour ended up almost as healthy as hairs that had never been injured, indicating that the anemone treatment has promise for mammals.

The findings are published in the current issue of the Journal of Experimental Biology.