Our main research interest lies in elucidating the molecular mechanisms governing normal development and function of neurosensory systems. In particular, we focus on the auditory neurosensory system that is responsible for detecting sounds and balance.

Building a functional inner ear requires a variety of developmental processes including cell fate specification, morphogenesis, and cellular differentiation. Defects in any of the processes will lead to hearing impairments, which can affect our verbal communications and daily activities, and thus the quality of life. In order to understand detailed mechanisms underlying the inner ear development and function, we mainly utilize genetically-modified mouse models.

Following is a couple of examples that our laboratory is currently asking.

How does the inner ear acquire its ability to discriminate different frquencies of sound?
The cochlea is tonotopically organized, such that the basal cochlear region is more sensitive to high frequency sound and the apical cochlear region to low frequency sound. It is yet unclear how such organization is established during inner ear development. The mechanism establishing the tonotopic organization is being investigated.

Gradual changes in the stereociliary bundles of the hair cells along the tonotopic axis (Son et al, 2012)

How does the primary cilium control animal development and function?
Primary cilium is a microtubule-based organelle protruding from the apical surface of almost all cells in the body. Recent studies reveal that primary cilia play crucial roles in mediating major signaling pathways that are important for animal development and diseases. The role of primary cilia in animal development and function is being investigated.

Mouse hair cells stained with Phalloidin (Red, actin filament) and Arl13b (Green, primary cilia)