Molecular screens for inner ear genes



Identification of the genes that encode proteins that are important for proper function of specific inner ear cell types is central to our understanding of the molecular basis of hearing and balance. Whereas the combination of electrophysiology and biophysics has resulted in an exquisite understanding of inner ear function, little is known about the proteins that confer these properties at the cellular level. Furthermore, the genes that control inner ear development, susceptibility to wear and tear, regeneration from damage, and age-related degeneration, are largely unknown. This review discusses tools that have been developed during the past few years to address this imbalance between a thorough physiologic characterization of inner ear function and a detailed understanding at a molecular level of the proteins involved in these functions. Creation of inner ear cDNA libraries has laid the foundation for the discovery of genes that are specifically expressed by cell types of the inner ear and that encode proteins that are important for molecular processes in these cells. In conjunction with expressed sequence tag database analysis, cDNA subtraction, and DNA arrays, functionally important genes, whose specific expression patterns are usually verified by gene expression analysis, can be identified. Discussion of these techniques takes into account the specific characteristics of the inner ear in relation to its study using molecular biological approaches. © 2002 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J Neurobiol 53: 265–275, 2002