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The Art in Science

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Ariane Kanicki, Senior Research Technician (Altschuler Laboratory), Otorhinolaryngology Department, University of Michigan Medical School

In the inner ear, sensory hair cells are responsible for hearing and for balance. In this image, you are looking down several rows of circular sensory cells that are stained orange and another row that is stained blue. The small green spots represent connections between the sensory cells and the auditory nerve; many connections are seen with the bottoms of the blue sensory cells. When sensory cells are stimulated by sound waves, they release a chemical at their base that then excites the auditory nerve (at the point of their connection) and the auditory nerve then sends auditory signals as electrical impulses to the brain. This image is part of a study to see how our hearing changes with age. We find that as animals age, many of the connections of the auditory nerve are lost (we see fewer of the green spots); we are examining therapies that might prevent these connections from being lost.