Clinical, genetic, and functional investigations were performed to identify the causative mutation in a distinctive Chinese family with postlingual non-syndromic mid-frequency sensorineural hearing loss. Whole-exome sequencing revealed SLC44A4, which encodes the choline transport protein, as the pathogenic gene in this family. In the zebrafish model, downregulation of slc44a4 using morpholinos led to significant abnormalities in the zebrafish inner ear and lateral line neuromasts and contributed, to some extent, to disabilities in hearing and balance. SH-SY5Y cells transfected with SLC44A4 showed higher choline uptake and acetylcholine release than that of cells transfected with mutant SLC44A4. We concluded that mutation of SLC44A4 may cause defects in the Choline- acetylcholine system, which is crucial to the efferent innervation of hair cells in the olivocochlear bundle for the maintenance of physiological function of outer hair cells and the protection of hair cells from acoustic injury, leading to hearing loss.

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