60-Second Science

Dark Living Led to Mighty Mouse Hearing

Mice kept in total darkness for a week saw their hearing improve. Well, they heard their hearing improve. Sophie Bushwick reports


The three blind mice should have heard the farmer's wife coming. Because a new study shows that when mice can’t see, their hearing improves.
Researchers kept healthy adult mice in total darkness for a week. When the mice got the lights back on, their vision quickly returned to normal—but their hearing was better.
The researchers also scanned the part of the mouse brains that processes auditory signals while they played a set of tones. In the temporarily blind mice, neurons reacted to the notes more quickly. The nerves also picked up softer sounds and were better at distinguishing between different tones.
The improved hearing wore off after a few weeks, but researchers are investigating ways to make it permanent. The study is published in the journal Neuron. [Emily Petrus et al., Crossmodal Induction of Thalamocortical Potentiation Leads to Enhanced Information Processing in the Auditory Cortex]

 Previously, the neurons in this part of the brain were considered incapable of changing after childhood. But the findings show the brain is more flexible than we thought. And they also suggest that if you can't hear me clearly, try turning out the lights.

—Sophie Bushwick

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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