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April 3, 2003

Hille Lecture on inner ear hair cell research

Dr. David P. Corey, professor at Harvard Medical School, neurobiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital, and an investigator for the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, will present the Einar Hille Memorial Lecture in Neurosciences, sponsored by the Department of Physiology and Biophysics, next week.

He will speak on “Sensory Transduction and Adaptation by Hair Cells of the Inner Ear” at 4 p.m., Thursday, April 10, in room T-625 in the Health Sciences Center. The lecture is free and open to everyone.

Corey’s research focuses on understanding the cellular and molecular basis of hearing. A specialized cell of the inner ear, called a hair cell, converts the mechanical stimulus of a sound wave into an electrical stimulus that is sent to the brain. These hair cells have a bundle of hair-like protrusions emanating from the top surface of the cell. These hairs are connected by fine filaments that are stretched every time the hair bundle is deflected by a sound vibration. The filaments are, in turn, connected directly to proteins called ion channels that respond to the stretch by producing an electrical current across the membrane.

Corey and his colleagues have begun to unravel some of the molecular mechanisms of hearing and deafness. Hair cells express hundreds of specialized proteins to carry out their mechano-sensory function. These include specialized ion channels and motor proteins related to the proteins in muscle cells that are responsible for muscle contraction.

Work in Corey’s laboratory has shown that, in hair cells, these motor proteins are important for auditory adaptation, the process by which hair cells adjust their sensitivity depending on the background noise level. Certain hair cells proteins have been shown to be defective in inherited forms of deafness.

Corey received his B.A. degree in physics from Amherst College and a Ph.D. degree in neurobiology from the California Institute of Technology. His thesis work, with James Hudspeth, focused on mechanical transduction in auditory receptor cells. His postdoctoral work with Charles Stevens at Yale Medical School was on voltage-sensitive ion channels. Among his many honors, Corey has won the Mirmelstein-Kresge Award for Excellence in Hearing Science.

The Einar Hille Memorial Lecture in Neurosciences was established by Kirsti Hille in honor of her late husband. Dr. Hille was a professor of mathematics at Yale University and a member of the National Academy of Sciences. Dr. Bertil Hille, son of Einar and Kirsti Hille, is a UW professor of physiology and biophysics.