or Connect
New Posts  All Forums:Forum Nav:

A question of balance

post #1 of 5
Thread Starter 
This topic has come up many times here in one form or another.

From Science Daily

Researchers Discover Gene That Contributes To Sense Of Balance

St. Louis, March 24, 2003 -- Researchers have discovered a gene that appears to be critical for maintaining a healthy sense of balance in mice. The study, led by a team at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, appears in the April 1 issue of the journal Human Molecular Genetics and online March 24.

"Loss of balance is a significant problem in the elderly because it can lead to dangerous falls and injuries," says one of the study's principal investigators, David M. Ornitz, M.D., Ph.D., professor of molecular biology and pharmacology at the School of Medicine. "Loss of balance also is a problem for astronauts following exposure to zero gravity. Now that we've discovered this new gene, we can begin to understand the mechanisms that allow the body to sense gravity and maintain balance."

Balance is determined and regulated by the vestibular system, which is housed in the inner ear. To detect gravity, a cluster of particles called otoconia rests atop hair cells lining the inner ear. Like a water buoy guided by the movement of waves, otoconia are displaced as the body moves. As otoconia move, they shift the hair cells, which triggers the cells to send messages to the brain.

Studies suggest that otoconia are only produced during development, and that they progressively degrade throughout life. Scientists believe otoconia become eroded during normal aging, which can lead to balance disorders. But little is understood about how otoconia develop, and whether it may be possible to stimulate the production or regeneration of these particles.

Ornitz's team genetically analyzed two strains of mice tilted (tlt) and mergulhador (mlh) known to have problems with balance. These mice walk with their heads tilted and have trouble orienting themselves in water but have no hearing problems. Moreover, they are missing their otoconia but have normal sensory hair cells. The team discovered that the two strains both have a mutation in the same previously unidentified gene, which the researchers named Otopetrin 1 or Otop1 ("oto" means "ear" and "petra" means "stone").

"It's possible that this is one of the genes that shuts down after development," Ornitz says. "It also is possible that it is involved in a variety of vestibular disorders. If we can find a way to reactivate this gene, we may be able to help otoconia regenerate and thereby treat or prevent balance disorders."

Hurle B, Ignatova E, Massironi SM, Mashimo T, Rios X, Thalmann I, Thalmann R, Ornitz DM. Non-syndromic vestibular disorder with otoconial agenesis in Tilted mice caused by mutations in otopetrin 1. Human Molecular Genetics, April 1, 2003.

Funding from the National Institutes of Health supported this research.
post #2 of 5
Wow! Fascinating, thanks!
post #3 of 5
Speaking of balance, I was watching Jeff Bean (Canadian aerialist) in the gym the other day. He was standing on top of a stability ball, barely wavering. Talk about genetics!
post #4 of 5
Thread Starter 
Yeah, gymnasts can do some amazing things, eh?

The part of this report that especially interested me was the bit on how the functional units of the vestibular system, the otoconia, crap-out as one ages, resulting in possible balance impairment for some. I wonder how that might play a role in how far a person progresses in skiing if they start later in life. Moreover, can the vestibular system be trained, such that the otoconia remain fully functional, if a person engage is activities that challenge the vestibular organs, like skiing.
post #5 of 5
I thought I might have been a good guinea pig since I didn't start skiing until I was 25 and trampoline until 2 years ago (33). Balance seems to be really good - I don't stagger as much when drinking now. [img]tongue.gif[/img]
New Posts  All Forums:Forum Nav: