Currently the research in the Section of Sensory Cell Development and Function is focused on understanding the molecular requirements and activity-dependent processes that drive hair-cell synapse assembly and function in an intact system. Our research leverages the strengths of the genetically tractable zebrafish model system. In the zebrafish, larvae are transparent, develop ex utero, and possess an auxiliary hair-cell organ called the lateral line. The lateral-line system is composed of clusters of superficial hair cells called neuromasts that are readily visualized and physically stimulated in vivo. Our work in the zebrafish combines genetics and in vivo imaging of activity along with synaptic structures to dissect the molecular and functional requirements underlying hair-cell synapse function and assembly. This is an important basic science question, but it also has important implications for hearing loss. While the majority of hearing loss is due to damage of sensory hair cells, there is accumulating evidence that for example in noise-induced hearing loss, the pathology may be due to damage and loss of hair-cell synapses rather than hair cells. Therefore for effective clinical treatment, it is important hair cells to understand how to reform these synaptic connections. In the future, it is our goal to apply our knowledge of synapse formation to understanding how to properly regenerate hair cells and synaptic structures after hair-cell damage and hearing loss.

Animals: Zebrafish


Katie Kindt