Synchrotron x-ray fluorescence microscopy can be used to measure the concentrations of different elements in cross-sections of the ear at extremely high resolution. This method could address many open questions in hearing medical diagnosis research.
X-ray fluorescence microscopy uses synchrotron radiation to evoke emissions from many biologically relevant elements in the tissue. The intensity and wavelength of the emitted radiation provide a fingerprint of the tissue composition that can be used to measure the concentration of the elements in the sampled location.
Measurement of the concentrations of different elements is possible in a mid-modiolar cross-section of a mouse cochlea. Images indicate potassium and chloride “hot spots” in the spiral ligament and the spiral limbus, providing experimental evidence for the potassium recycling pathway and showing the cochlear structures involved. Scans of a section obtained from the incus, one of the middle ear ossicles, in a developing mouse have shown that zinc is not uniformly distributed. It supports the hypothesis that zinc plays a special role in ossification.
Despite being constrained by complex sample preparation and sectioning, the technique offers plenty of exciting opportunities to understand the role of genetics and epigenetics on hearing mechanisms in ontogeny and phylogeny.
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