The genetics of hair-cell function in zebrafish

Teresa Nicolson

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

41 Scopus citations


Our ears are remarkable sensory organs, providing the important senses of balance and hearing. The complex structure of the inner ear, or ‘labyrinth’, along with the assorted neuroepithelia, have evolved to detect head movements and sounds with impressive sensitivity. The rub is that the inner ear is highly vulnerable to genetic lesions and environmental insults. According to National Institute of Health estimates, hearing loss is one of the most commonly inherited or acquired sensorineural diseases. To understand the causes of deafness and balance disorders, it is imperative to understand the underlying biology of the inner ear, especially the inner workings of the sensory receptors. These receptors, which are termed hair cells, are particularly susceptible to genetic mutations–more than two dozen genes are associated with defects in this cell type in humans. Over the past decade, a substantial amount of progress has been made in working out the molecular basis of hair-cell function using vertebrate animal models. Given the transparency of the inner ear and the genetic tools that are available, zebrafish have become an increasingly popular animal model for the study of deafness and vestibular dysfunction. Mutagenesis screens for larval defects in hearing and balance have been fruitful in finding key components, many of which have been implicated in human deafness. This review will focus on the genes that are required for hair-cell function in zebrafish, with a particular emphasis on mechanotransduction. In addition, the generation of new tools available for the characterization of zebrafish hair-cell mutants will be discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)102-112
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Neurogenetics
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 3 2017


  • Hair cell
  • deafness gene
  • hair bundle
  • inner ear
  • lateral line organ
  • mechanotransduction
  • zebrafish

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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