Edwin Rubel, Ph.D.
Our laboratory is located at the Virginia Merrill Bloedel Hearing Research Center in the Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery at the University of Washington.
Our research uses a wide variety of methods and numerous preparations to better understand development, plasticity, pathology, and potential repair of the inner ear and auditory pathways of the brain. We investigate both the fundamental neurobiology of hearing and translational opportunities of the present and future that are directed toward preventing and curing hearing loss and balance disorders.
One research program endeavors to understand cellular processes underlying the development of information processing in the auditory system. Anatomical, physiological, and acoustical methods are used to examine development of cellular mechanisms underlying acoustic signal processing by the inner ear. Parallel studies using both in vivo and in vitro preparations examine the factors that include growth of connections in the brain stem auditory pathways.
A second research program addresses the problem of how experience influences brain development. Using manipulations of the amount and pattern of neuronal activity impinging on neurons in the brain stem auditory system of birds and mammals, we study the cellular nature of signals that influence the growth, remodeling, and maintenance of neuronal and glial elements.
A third research program studies the cellular and molecular events involved in hair cell death due to environmental toxins or aging. In vivo and in vitro preparations of inner ear sensory epithelium are used to study death and cell survival pathways. A unique zebrafish mutagenesis and screening assay is used to discover genes that modulate hair cell responses to ototoxic drugs.
The final research program stems from the discovery that birds can regenerate inner ear receptor cells (hair cells) following noise- or drug-induced hearing loss. Ongoing studies are aimed at determining the cellular and molecular events responsible for initiating hair cell regeneration and using hair cell regeneration to study plasticity of the avian brain.