Purpose of review: This review discusses recent progress in research that seeks to understand the regeneration of hair cells and highlights findings that may hold importance for the eventual development of regenerative therapies for hearing and balance impairments.
Recent findings: Signaling via the Notch receptor and the basic helix-loop-helix transcription factors has important roles in the development and regeneration of hair cells. The cytoskeletal properties and cell-matrix interactions of supporting cells in mice of different ages may hold part of the explanation for the age-related differences in their proliferative responses to damage and the differences between mammals and nonmammals in hair cell regeneration. Progress also has been made in deriving stem cells from inner ear tissues and other sources and in the evaluation of their potential uses as sources of new hair cells and as tools for biomedical research.
Summary: Much has been accomplished since the discovery of postembryonic hair cell production and hair cell regeneration in nonmammals decades ago. No therapies for hair cell regeneration are under clinical trials, but research is yielding potentially important discoveries that are likely to lead to the development of therapeutic methods for inducing hair cell regeneration in the mammalian inner ear.