Saarland University Faculty of Medicine
About us
Engel Lab

About us

We focus on investigating the function of inner hair cells and primary auditory neurons of the mammalian inner ear. Inner hair cells represent the first step of neuronal processing in the inner ear.  They transform the acoustic stimulus into the release of neurotransmitter at specialized synapses (ribbon synapses), which elicits neuronal activity on the auditory nerve that is subsequently transmitted via several intermediate stages to the cortex.

We are especially interested in the electrical properties of inner hair cells and and primary auditory neurons and their signal transmission via the release of neurotransmitter. In the lab we use techniques such as electrophysiological (patch-clamp) measurements, immunohistochemistry, Ca2+ imaging, molecular biology techniques and hearing measurements.

Specifically we are interested in:

  • the electrophysiology of voltage dependent Ca2+ and K+ ion channels in inner hair cells and primary auditory neurons

  • especially the electrophysiology and molecular biology of the “neuro-endocrine” Cav1.3 Ca2+ channel, which activates very fast at very negative potentials, permitting  very sensitive signal transduction with a high temporal fidelity

  • the role of accessory Ca2+ channel subunits for the morphology and function of auditory nerve synapses (“endbulbs of Held”)

  • the spatial organisation of Ca2+ channels and their co-localisation with other ion channels and proteins at the pre-synaptic zone of the inner hair cell

  • the role of spontaneous activity (Ca2+ action potentials) for the  final differentiation of hair cells and the auditory pathway

  • Ca2+ transients and Ca2+ waves in the inner ear

  • the development of an electrophysiological model of the hair cell