Building Blocks: Protein Power and a Baby Bump

Ear hair makes a comeback, reward circuitry, and a baby bump.

By Lacy Schley|Tuesday, May 09, 2017
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Cochlear hair cells, seen with microscopic imaging.
SPL/Science Source

Hearing Hairs Restored: Tiny hairs in our inner ears, called cochlear hair cells, are vital to our natural perception of sound, and once we lose them, we don’t grow them back. But scientists published in Cell Reports that they’ve discovered a way to regenerate those cells in mouse, primate and human tissue samples. After exposing supporting cells — cells that can create new cochlear hairs — to a specialized drug mixture, the team saw significant new hair cell growth.

Baby Bump: Birds don’t give birth to live young, but their distant ancestors did. Archosauromorphs, which existed about 250 million years ago, were the creatures that evolved into crocodiles, dinosaurs, birds and pterosaurs. Experts thought these beasts laid eggs, much like their modern descendants. But a new Nature Communications paper details the fossilized remains of an archosauromorph mother and her unborn baby. The mom — the marine-dwelling Dinocephalosaurus — and her preserved pregnancy could give paleontologists a better idea of how her kind lived and evolved.

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Dinocephalosaurus
Dinghua Yang

The Power of Proteins: New work in Nature Neuroscience offers some promise for understanding cocaine addiction. Researchers genetically engineered mice to produce cadherin, a protein involved in learning that helps strengthen the brain’s neural connections. The mice cranked out this protein in their reward circuits, a brain area that drives us to seek pleasure-inducing experiences and a key component in addiction. After introducing the cadherin-laden mice to cocaine multiple times, experts expected the rodents to crave the drug. Instead, the critters carried on without interest: The excess protein actually clogged their reward center circuitry, preventing the mice from getting hooked. The results point to the importance of biochemistry in addiction.

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