A protein deep in the ear is a key factor for normal hearing and could be used to help develop treatments for deafness, US researchers believe.

For decades scientists have been trying to figure out what translates sound into the nerve impulses which are interpreted by the brain.

Now a Harvard Medical School team says it is down to a protein, TRPA1, on the tips of hair cells of the inner ear.

Their animal research findings are published in the journal Nature.

Scientists already know that in order to hear, sound waves travel along the passage of the ear until they hit the eardrum and cause it to vibrate.

This causes three tiny bones behind the ear drum, called the ossicles, to start moving.

They, in turn, pass on vibrations to a thin layer of tissue at the entrance of the inner ear called the oval window.

The movement of the oval window then sets off wave-like motions in the fluid in an organ shaped like a snail’s shell which is called the cochlea.

The cochlea contains thousands of minute hair cells that are linked up to nerves, which transmit impulses to the brain to interpret the sound.

More here.