Hair Cells and Hormones Research
The midshipman research is an ongoing collaboration between the Coffin and Sisneros labs and is supported by a 4-year National Science Foundation grant to Dr. Coffin and collaborators Dr. Joe Sisneros and Dr. Jennifer Stone, both at the University of Washington.
Estrogens can modulate human hearing but the mechanism of action is unknown (reviewed in Hultcrantz et al. 2006). Previous work in the plainfin midshipman (Porichthys notatus) has conclusively demonstrated that hormones influence hearing sensitivity in this species (Sisneros et al. 2004). This work showed that the female midshipman’s auditory system is more sensitive to the calls of a courting male during the breeding season than during non-reproductive seasons, and that this increased sensitivity can be induced by estrogen implantation.
We have found that hair cell density changes in the saccule (the hearing organ in the midshipman’s inner ear) depending on the reproductive season (Coffin et al. 2012). Our current work asks how hormones influence hair cell death and production in order to regulate these seasonal differences.
Midshipman collecting (at right) during the spring breeding season. The underside of the rock is covered in yellow eggs. Look closely in the muddy pool for a glimpse of the parents.