Hearing loss caused by the death of sensory hair cells of the inner ear is an unfortunate side effect for many patients treated with aminoglycoside antibiotics or platinum-containing chemotherapy agents. In animal models, induction of heat shock confers substantial otoprotection against aminoglycoside- and cisplatin-induced hair cell death. In this issue of the JCI, Breglio et al. demonstrate that inner ear tissue released exosomes carrying heat shock protein 70 (HSP70) in response to heat stress. HSP70 acted by a paracrine mechanism that engaged the Toll-like receptor 4 (TLR4) on hair cells to protect them from death. Exosomes and the HSP70/TLR4 pathway could thus provide treatment targets for the protection of hair cells from chemically induced death or from other insults, such as noise.
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