Quick Reference


Journey of Sound to the Brain (NIH/NIDCD)


Calcium channel

As the name suggests, calcium channels only regulate calcium. If calcium channels are not functioning properly and there is not enough calcium flowing, the signal from your ears to your brain can get lost, preventing you from hearing sound. Alternatively, if too much calcium is flowing, it may damage the connection (synapse) between neurons and also stop the signal. If either of these problems stick around, it could lead to hearing loss. Their function can be affected by many things, including your genes.

  • T-type calcium channel

A T-type calcium channel plays a very important role in hearing. It is a short-term low-voltage activated calcium channel. This means that they work really fast and do not require a big signal, allowing us to hear clearly without missing a beat. Sub-types of T-type calcium channels are each made from their own gene in your DNA. If there is a mutation in one of the genes, it could be problematic. If you are exposed to loud sounds, your neurons may try to repair themselves by making (expressing) more calcium channels. Researchers can study this expression to better understand the relationships between your genes, noise damage, and hearing.


You’ve heard of electrolytes, right? Calcium, potassium, sodium… these are all ions and electrolytes. They allow our bodies to function. Our bodies naturally keep certain levels of these ions inside and around cells at different concentrations. When your body is active, these electrolytes are being used (and eventually need to be replaced, which is why athletes drink sports drinks with electrolytes). Whether you are pumping iron at the gym or simply listening to the radio, your nervous system is using these electrolytes. These ions are flowing in and out of your neurons right now.

Ion channel

On the surface of cells, there are tiny proteins called membrane proteins that are embedded in the cell membrane (think of this like the cell’s skin) and form tiny pores. These pores are called channels. Channels allow small molecules to flow in and out of the cell. Most channels only let specific kinds of molecules through.

  • Voltage-gated ion channels

How does an ion channel know when it should let some ions through? The channel depends on the charge, or voltage, of the cell to work. When a cell reaches the right voltage, channels open and molecules flow.



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