The Tarchini lab is primarily interested in the development of the inner ear, and in particular how hair cells, the cells that detect sound, gravity, and acceleration, generate the structures necessary for these important sensory functions. Hair cells grow a highly specialized structure at their apical surface called the hair bundle, which is composed of an array of actin-filled stereocilia. These stereocilia are arranged in a highly stereotyped manner and exhibit multiple levels of polarity: for example, the vertex of their chevron-shaped formation lies on the lateral half of the apical surface, the rows of the bundle adopt a staircase arrangement, and all bundles within the tissue are oriented in a coordinated manner. Defects in bundle morphogenesis are known to underlie forms of hereditary hearing loss, and damage to the mature bundle is a major component of hearing loss later in life. I am currently using mouse models to understand, among other things, the proteins and processes that shape the mechanosensitive stereocilia bundle of hair cells during development. This knowledge could help inform therapies aimed at both preventing hereditary hearing loss and regenerating hair cells damaged later in life.
While the ear field is new to me, I spent both my doctoral and postdoctoral studies working on other sensory systems. For my PhD, I worked with Randy Reed at Johns Hopkins to examine the olfactory phenotypes of a mouse model of the ciliopathy Bardet-Biedl syndrome. I then moved to the Jackson Laboratory, where I worked with Rob Burgess to study the visual function of mice carrying a mutation in the gene encoding the cell adhesion molecule Dscam. I am excited to be able to apply the knowledge and skills I have gained from these endeavors to fascinating questions regarding the development of the inner ear.