Snap your fingers. You create tiny vibrations in the air that reach your ear and are converted to electrical impulses. These impulses shoot along brain cells (neurons) to be processed as sound, all before your fingers have even stopped moving. The details of this instant information transfer along and between neurons are important but not fully understood. Nitric oxide (NO) is a signalling molecule that passes messages from one neuron to another. A new study looked at an audio-processing part of guinea pig brains and found NO-production machinery, nNOS, in surprising discrete spots (green) on the brain cells (pink). Activity in these cells responds to audio signals, but can be restricted by subduing nNOS, suggesting that NO is essential to hearing. Altered brain cell activity and unusual nNOS behaviour have been linked to tinnitus and hearing problems following acoustic trauma, so unpicking NO’s role might help patients hear clearly.
Written by Anthony Lewis
- Image from work by Bas M.J. Olthof, Sarah E. Gartside and Adrian Rees, published on the cover of Journal of Neuroscience
- Institute of Neuroscience, Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK
- Image reproduced with permission from the Journal of Neuroscience
- Published in Journal of Neuroscience, January 2019