McDermott Lab

The goals of Brian McDermott's group are to elucidate the molecular mechanisms of hair-cell development and operation and to determine how these mechanisms relate to human hearing and deafness.

The hair cell is a mechanoreceptor that is essential not only for hearing but also for balance and for the detection of water movement by aquatic vertebrates. This receptor represents mechanical stimuli as electrical responses that are relayed to the brain. Physiologically, hair cells are very well understood and much is known about how they function in hearing.

However, to understand the molecular basis of hearing, the genes expressed in the hair cell must be identified and their role in hearing evaluated. His team has developed a functional genomics approach involving the zebrafish ( Danio rerio ) model system that entails identification of hair cell-specific genes using DNA oligonucleotide microarrays followed by removal of these gene products in vivo with antisense technology.

His group is primarily interested in how some of these genes relate to three aspects of the hair cell: hair-bundle morphogenesis and operation, hair-cell innervation, and ribbon synapse formation and function. In addition to zebrafish genetics, the McDermott group integrates imaging, physiological, transgenic, and behavioral approaches to study hair-cell development and operation.