During development, facial branchiomotor (FBM) neurons, which innervate muscles in the vertebrate head, migrate caudally and radially within the brainstem to form a motor nucleus at the pial surface. Several components of the Wnt/planar cell polarity (PCP) pathway, including the transmembrane protein Vangl2, regulate caudal migration of FBM neurons in zebrafish, but their roles in neuronal migration in mouse have not been investigated in detail. Therefore, we analyzed FBM neuron migration in mouse looptail (Lp) mutants, in which Vangl2 is inactivated. In Vangl2 Lp/+ and Vangl2 Lp/Lp embryos, FBM neurons failed to migrate caudally from rhombomere (r) 4 into r6. Although caudal migration was largely blocked, many FBM neurons underwent normal radial migration to the pial surface of the neural tube. In addition, hindbrain patterning and FBM progenitor specification were intact, and FBM neurons did not transfate into other non-migratory neuron types, indicating a specific effect on caudal migration.
Since loss-of-function in some zebrafish Wnt/PCP genes does not affect caudal migration of FBM neurons, we tested whether this was also the case in mouse. Embryos null for Ptk7, a regulator of PCP signaling, had severe defects in caudal migration of FBM neurons. However, FBM neurons migrated normally in Dishevelled (Dvl) 1/2 double mutants, and in zebrafish embryos with disrupted Dvl signaling, suggesting that Dvl function is essentially dispensable for FBM neuron caudal migration. Consistent with this, loss of Dvl2 function in Vangl2 Lp/+ embryos did not exacerbate the Vangl2 Lp/+ neuronal migration phenotype. These data indicate that caudal migration of FBM neurons is regulated by multiple components of the Wnt/PCP pathway, but, importantly, may not require Dishevelled function. Interestingly, genetic-interaction experiments suggest that rostral FBM neuron migration, which is normally suppressed, depends upon Dvl function.
Facial branchiomotor neuron migration; Planar Cell Polarity Signaling; Van gogh-like 2; Disheveled; Protein Tyrosine Kinase 7; Looptail
Reconstructing a functional organ of Corti is the ultimate target towards curing hearing loss. Despite the impressive technical gains made over the last few years, many complications remain ahead for the two main restoration avenues: in vitro transformation of pluripotent cells into hair cell-like cells and adenovirus-mediated gene therapy. Most notably, both approaches require a more complete understanding of the molecular networks that ensure specific cell types form in the correct places to allow proper function of the restored organ of Corti. Important to this understanding are the basic helix-loop-helix (bHLH) transcription factors (TFs) that are highly diverse and serve to increase functional complexity but their evolutionary implementation in the inner ear neurosensory development is less conspicuous. To this end, we review the evolutionary and developmentally dynamic interactions of the three bHLH TFs that have been identified as the main players in neurosensory evolution and development, Neurog1, Neurod1 and Atoh1. These three TFs belong to the neurogenin/atonal family and evolved from a molecular precursor that likely regulated single sensory cell development in the ectoderm of metazoan ancestors but are now also expressed in other parts of the body, including the brain. They interact extensively via intracellular and intercellular cross-regulation to establish the two main neurosensory cell types of the ear, the hair cells and sensory neurons. Furthermore, the level and duration of their expression affect the specification of hair cell subtypes (inner hair cells vs. outer hair cells). We propose that appropriate manipulation of these TFs through their characterized binding sites may offer a solution by itself, or in conjunction with the two other approaches currently pursued by others, to restore the organ of Corti.
Inner ear; Development; Hair cell; Restoration; Transcription factor
In mouse ear development, two bHLH genes, Atoh1 and Neurog1, are essential for hair cell and sensory neuron differentiation. Evolution converted the original simple atonal-dependent neurosensory cell formation program of diploblasts into the derived developmental program of vertebrates that generates two neurosensory cell types, the sensory neuron and the sensory hair cell. This transformation was achieved through gene multiplication in ancestral triploblasts resulting in the expansion of the atonal bHLH gene family. Novel genes of the Neurogenin and NeuroD families are upregulated prior to the expression of Atoh1. Recent data suggest that NeuroD and Neurogenin were lost or their function in neuronal specification reduced in flies, thus changing our perception of the evolution of these genes. This sequence of expression changes was accompanied by modification of the E-box binding sites of these genes to regulate different downstream genes and to form inhibitory loops among each other, thus fine-tuning expression transitions.
bHLH genes; Neurosensory development; Neurosensory evolution; Ear development; Hair cells
The developing sensory neurons of the mammalian ear require two sequentially activated bHLH genes, Neurog1 and Neurod1, for their development. Neurons never develop in Neurog1 null mice, and most neurons die in Neurod1 null mutants, a gene upregulated by Neurog1. The surviving neurons of Neurod1 null mice are incompletely characterized in postnatal mice because of the early lethality of mutants and the possible compromising effect of the absence of insulin on peripheral neuropathies. Using Tg (Pax2-cre), we have generated a conditional deletion of floxed Neurod1 for the ear; this mouse is viable and allows us to investigate ear innervation defects of Neurod1 absence only in the ear. We have compared the defects in embryos and show an ear phenotype in conditional Neurod1 null mice comparable with the systemic Neurod1 null mouse. By studying postnatal animals, we show that Neurod1 not only is necessary for the survival of most spiral and many vestibular neurons, but is also essential for a segregated central projection of vestibular and cochlear afferents. In the absence of Neurod1 in the ear, vestibular and cochlear afferents enter the cochlear nucleus as a single mixed nerve. Neurites coming from vestibular and cochlear sensory epithelia project centrally to both cochlear and vestibular nuclei, in addition to their designated target projections. The peripheral innervation of the remaining sensory neurons is disorganized and shows collaterals of single neurons projecting to multiple endorgans, displaying no tonotopic organization of the organ of Corti or the nucleus. Pending elucidation of the molecular details these Neurod1 functions, these data demonstrate Neurod1 is not only a major factor for the survival neurons but is crucial for the development of normal connections, both in the ear and in the central system.
Ear development; Neuronal development; Afferent connections; Cochlea; Vestibular ganglion; Organ of Corti; Mouse (Neurod1 conditional knockout)
Hair cells of the developing mammalian inner ear are progressively defined through cell fate restriction. This process culminates in the expression of the bHLH transcription factor Atoh1, which is necessary for differentiation of hair cells, but not for their specification. Loss of several genes will disrupt ear morphogenesis or arrest of neurosensory epithelia development. We previously showed in null mutants that the loss of the transcription factor, Gata3, results specifically in the loss of all cochlear neurosensory development. Temporal expression of Gata3 is broad from the otic placode stage through the postnatal ear. It therefore remains unclear at which stage in development Gata3 exerts its effect. To better understand the stage specific effects of Gata3, we investigated the role of Gata3 in cochlear neurosensory specification and differentiation utilizing a LoxP targeted Gata3 line and two Cre lines. Foxg1Cre∶Gata3f/f mice show recombination of Gata3 around E8.5 but continue to develop a cochlear duct without differentiated hair cells and spiral ganglion neurons. qRT-PCR data show that Atoh1 was down-regulated but not absent in the duct whereas other hair cell specific genes such as Pou4f3 were completely absent. In addition, while Sox2 levels were lower in the Foxg1Cre:Gata3f/f cochlea, Eya1 levels remained normal. We conclude that Eya1 is unable to fully upregulate Atoh1 or Pou4f3, and drive differentiation of hair cells without Gata3. Pax2-Cre∶Gata3f/f mice show a delayed recombination of Gata3 in the ear relative to Foxg1Cre:Gata3f/f. These mice exhibited a cochlear duct containing patches of partially differentiated hair cells and developed only few and incorrectly projecting spiral ganglion neurons. Our conditional deletion studies reveal a major role of Gata3 in the signaling of prosensory genes and in the differentiation of cochlear neurosenory cells. We suggest that Gata3 may act in combination with Eya1, Six1, and Sox2 in cochlear prosensory gene signaling.
Due to the multisensory input into the balance system, the loss of one input, such as an ear, can generally be compensated for. However, when a mismatch or incomplete loss of inputs occurs, the ability to compensate for the stimulus misrepresentation may be compromised. The inner ear and cerebellum are important input and processing centers for balance but no genetic models have been generated to assess balance or compensation in the abnormal development of both these organs/brain areas. Important to their formation is regulation of proliferation mediated by the proto-oncogene N-Myc. Conditional knockouts (CKOs) of N-Myc using Tg(Pax2-Cre) have a misshapen and smaller ear with a fused utricle, saccule, and cochlea and absent horizontal canal, aberrant cochlear and vestibular innervations, and a size reduction in the cerebellum. CKOs are viable with obvious behavioral deficits, including circling behavior and unstable gait. To test the degree of ataxia and possible compensation of vestibular defects in these mutant mice, we use the Noldus Catwalk System to assess the gait of Tg(Pax2-Cre) N-Myc CKOs over five months. N-Myc CKOs perform worse than control littermates, in particular, in step regularity. We show that disrupting one member of the Myc family during embryonic development coincides with a differential loss of function in the cochlea compared to the vestibular apparatus. In addition, we show that the distortion in the ear morphology combined with a reduction of the cerebellum, rather than a complete loss of the vestibular-cerebellar pathway, leads to partial behavioral compensation that remains unchanged over time.
N-Myc; Catwalk; Regularity Index; Stride Length; Stride Speed
The evolutionary origin of novelties is a central problem in biology. At a cellular level this requires, for example, molecularly resolving how brainstem motor neurons change their innervation target from muscle fibers (branchial motor neurons) to neural crest-derived ganglia (visceral motor neurons) or ear-derived hair cells (inner ear and lateral line efferent neurons). Transplantation of various tissues into the path of motor neuron axons could determine the ability of any motor neuron to innervate a novel target. Several tissues that receive direct, indirect, or no motor innervation were transplanted into the path of different motor neuron populations in Xenopus laevis embryos. Ears, somites, hearts, and lungs were transplanted to the orbit, replacing the eye. Jaw and eye muscle were transplanted to the trunk, replacing a somite. Applications of lipophilic dyes and immunohistochemistry to reveal motor neuron axon terminals were used. The ear, but not somite-derived muscle, heart, or liver, received motor neuron axons via the oculomotor or trochlear nerves. Somite-derived muscle tissue was innervated, likely by the hypoglossal nerve, when replacing the ear. In contrast to our previous report on ear innervation by spinal motor neurons, none of the tissues (eye or jaw muscle) was innervated when transplanted to the trunk. Taken together, these results suggest that there is some plasticity inherent to motor innervation, but not every motor neuron can become an efferent to any target that normally receives motor input. The only tissue among our samples that can be innervated by all motor neurons tested is the ear. We suggest some possible, testable molecular suggestions for this apparent uniqueness.
The plasma membrane of mammalian cochlear outer hair cells contains prestin, a unique motor protein. Prestin is the fifth member of the solute carrier protein 26A family. Orthologs of prestin are also found in the ear of non-mammalian vertebrates such as zebrafish and chicken. However, these orthologs are electrogenic anion exchangers/transporters with no motor function. Amphibian and reptilian lineages represent phylogenic branches in the evolution of tetrapods and subsequent amniotes. Comparison of the peptide sequences and functional properties of these prestin orthologs offer new insights into prestin evolution. With the recent availability of the lizard and frog genome sequences, we examined amino acid sequence and function of lizard and frog prestins to determine how they are functionally and structurally different from prestins of mammals and other non-mammals. Somatic motility, voltage-dependent nonlinear capacitance (NLC), the two hallmarks of prestin function, and transport capability were measured in transfected human embryonic kidney cells using voltage-clamp and radioisotope techniques. We demonstrated that while the transport capability of lizard and frog prestin was compatible to that of chicken prestin, the NLC of lizard prestin was more robust than that of chicken’s and was close to that of platypus. However, unlike platypus prestin which has acquired motor capability, lizard or frog prestin did not demonstrate motor capability. Lizard and frog prestins do not possess the same 11-amino-acid motif that is likely the structural adaptation for motor function in mammals. Thus, lizard and frog prestins appear to be functionally more advanced than that of chicken prestin, although motor capability is not yet acquired.
The paratympanic organ (PTO), a mechanosensory hair cell-containing pouch in the amniote middle ear, was first described 100 years ago yet its origins remain unresolved. Homology with the anamniote spiracular organ is supported by association with homologous skeletal elements and similar central targets of afferent neurons, suggesting it might be a remnant of the water-dependent lateral line system, otherwise lost during the amniote transition to terrestrial life. However, this is incompatible with studies suggesting it arises from the first epibranchial (geniculate) placode. Here we show that a previously undiscovered Sox2-positive placode, immediately dorsal to the geniculate placode, forms the PTO and its afferent neurons, which are molecularly and morphologically distinct from geniculate neurons. These data remove the only obstacle to accepting the homology of the PTO and spiracular organ. We hypothesise that the PTO/spiracular organ represents an ancient head ectoderm module, developmentally and evolutionarily independent of both lateral line and epibranchial placodes.
Sensory hair cells are essential for hearing and balance. Their development from epithelial precursors has been extensively characterized with respect to transcriptional regulation, but not in terms of posttranscriptional influences. Here we report on the identification and functional characterization of an alternative-splicing regulator whose inactivation is responsible for defective hair-cell development, deafness, and impaired balance in the spontaneous mutant Bronx waltzer (bv) mouse. We used positional cloning and transgenic rescue to locate the bv mutation to the splicing factor-encoding gene Ser/Arg repetitive matrix 4 (Srrm4). Transcriptome-wide analysis of pre–mRNA splicing in the sensory patches of embryonic inner ears revealed that specific alternative exons were skipped at abnormally high rates in the bv mice. Minigene experiments in a heterologous expression system confirmed that these skipped exons require Srrm4 for inclusion into the mature mRNA. Sequence analysis and mutagenesis experiments showed that the affected transcripts share a novel motif that is necessary for the Srrm4-dependent alternative splicing. Functional annotations and protein–protein interaction data indicated that the encoded proteins cluster in the secretion and neurotransmission pathways. In addition, the splicing of a few transcriptional regulators was found to be Srrm4 dependent, and several of the genes known to be targeted by these regulators were expressed at reduced levels in the bv mice. Although Srrm4 expression was detected in neural tissues as well as hair cells, analyses of the bv mouse cerebellum and neocortex failed to detect splicing defects. Our data suggest that Srrm4 function is critical in the hearing and balance organs, but not in all neural tissues. Srrm4 is the first alternative-splicing regulator to be associated with hearing, and the analysis of bv mice provides exon-level insights into hair-cell development.
The identification of novel deafness-causing mutations has been instrumental in revealing unexpected mechanisms that are required for development of the sound- and gravity-sensing hair cells of the inner ear. The Bronx waltzer (bv) mouse is characterized by defects in hair-cell development, as well as by deafness and impaired balance. Here, we report on our identification of a mutation in the Ser/Arg repetitive matrix 4 (Srrm4) gene as the source of these defects. The encoded protein, Srrm4, belongs to a family of RNA splicing factors that regulate the inclusion of certain genetic information (i.e. alternative exons) into the transcribed RNA. We analyzed the molecular function of Srrm4 by comparing the exon composition of RNAs in the inner ear of bv and control mice. This approach revealed that, in the bv mice, specific alternative exons were omitted from protein-encoding RNAs. The affected transcripts shared two features: they contained a short sequence motif that was required for Srrm4-dependent splicing, and they encoded proteins that were related predominantly to secretion and neurotransmission. In addition, RNAs of a few gene expression regulators contained Srrm4-regulated exons. Our data suggest that Srrm4-dependent alternative splicing has a profound effect on the developmental program of hair cells.
The bipolar spiral ganglion neurons predominantly delaminate from the growing cochlear duct and migrate to Rosenthal’s canal. They project radial fibers to innervate the organ of Corti (type I neurons to inner hair cells, type II neurons to outer hair cells) and also project tonotopically to the cochlear nuclei. The early differentiation of these neurons requires transcription factors to regulate migration, pathfinding and survival. Neurog1 null mice lack formation of neurons. Neurod1 null mice show massive cell death combined with aberrant central and peripheral projections. Prox1 protein is necessary for proper type II neuron process navigation, which is also affected by the neurotrophins Bdnf and Ntf3. Neurotrophin null mutants show specific patterns of neuronal loss along the cochlea but remaining neurons compensate by expanding their target area. All neurotrophin mutants have reduced radial fiber growth proportional to the degree of loss of neurotrophin alleles. This suggests a simple dose response effect of neurotrophin concentration. Keeping overall concentration constant, but misexpressing one neurotrophin under regulatory control of another one results in exuberant fiber growth not only of vestibular fibers to the cochlea but also of spiral ganglion neurons to outer hair cells suggesting different effectiveness of neurotrophins for spiral ganglion neurite growth. Finally, we report here for the first time that losing all neurons in double null mutants affects extension of the cochlear duct and leads to formation of extra rows of outer hair cells in the apex, possibly by disrupting the interaction of the spiral ganglion with the elongating cochlea.
ear; spiral ganglion; development; neuronal survival
Ear development requires interactions of transcription factors for proliferation and differentiation. The proto-oncogene N-Myc is a member of the Myc family that regulate proliferation. To investigate the function of N-Myc, we conditionally knocked out N-Myc in the ear using Tg(Pax2-Cre) and Foxg 1KiCre. N-Myc CKOs had reduced growth of the ear, abnormal morphology including fused sensory epithelia, disrupted histology, and disorganized neuronal innervation. Using Thin-Sheet Laser Imaging Microscopy (TSLIM), 3D reconstruction and quantification of the cochlea revealed a greater than fifty percent size reduction. Immunochemistry and in situ hybridization showed a gravistatic organ-cochlear fusion and a “circularized” apex with no clear inner and outer hair cells. Furthermore, the abnormally developed cochlea had cross innervation from the vestibular ganglion near the basal tip. These findings are put in the context of the possible functional relationship of N-Myc with a number of other cell proliferative and fate determining genes during ear development.
N-Myc; Histogenesis; Morphogenesis; Inner Ear; Cell Cycle
This review summarizes recent progress in our understanding of the molecular basis of cochlear duct growth, specification of the organ of Corti, and differentiation of the different types of hair cells. Studies of multiple mutations suggest that developing hair cells are involved in stretching the organ of Corti through convergent extension movements. However, Atoh1 null mutants have only undifferentiated and dying organ of Corti precursors but show a near normal extension of the cochlear duct, implying that organ of Corti precursor cells can equally drive this process. Some factors influence cochlear duct growth by regulating the cell cycle and proliferation. Shortened cell cycle and premature cell cycle exit can lead to a shorter organ of Corti with multiple rows of hair cells (e.g., Foxg1 null mice). Other genes affect the initial formation of a cochlear duct with or without affecting the organ of Corti. Such observations are consistent with evolutionary data that suggest some developmental uncoupling of cochlear duct from organ of Corti formation. Positioning the organ of Corti requires multiple genes expressed in the organ of Corti and the flanking region. Several candidate factors have emerged but how they cooperate to specify the organ of Corti and the topology of hair cells remains unclear. Atoh1 is required for differentiation of all hair cells, but regulation of inner versus outer hair cell differentiation is still unidentified. In summary, the emerging molecular complexity of organ of Corti development demands further study before a rational approach towards regeneration of unique types of hair cells in specific positions is possible.
cochlea; development; organ of Corti; cell fate decision
Hearing loss affects hundreds of millions of people worldwide by dampening or cutting off their auditory connection to the world. Current treatments for sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL) with cochlear implants are not perfect, leaving regenerative medicine as the logical avenue to a perfect cure. Multiple routes to regeneration of damaged hair cells have been proposed and are actively pursued. Each route not only requires a keen understanding of the molecular basis of ear development but also faces the practical limitations of stem cell regulation in the delicate inner ear where topology of cell distribution is essential. Improvements in our molecular understanding of the minimal essential genes necessary for hair cell formation and recent advances in stem cell manipulation, such as seen with inducible pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) and epidermal neural crest stem cells (EPI-NCSCs), have opened new possibilities to advance research in translational stem cell therapies for individuals with hearing loss. Despite this, more detailed network maps of gene expression are needed, including an appreciation for the roles of microRNAs (miRs), key regulators of transcriptional gene networks. To harness the true potential of stem cells for hair cell regeneration, basic science and clinical medicine must work together to expedite the transition from bench to bedside by elucidating the full mechanisms of inner ear hair cell development, including a focus on the role of miRs, and adapting this knowledge safely and efficiently to stem cell technologies.
iPSCs; miRNAs; stem cells; hair cells; regeneration; EPI-NCSCs
Atonal homolog1 (Atoh1, formerly Math1) is a crucial bHLH transcription factor for inner ear hair cell differentiation. Its absence in embryos results in complete absence of mature hair cells at birth and its misexpression can generate extra hair cells. Thus Atoh1 may be both necessary and sufficient for hair cell differentiation in the ear. Atoh1 null mice die at birth and have some undifferentiated cells in sensory epithelia carrying Atoh1 markers. The fate of these undifferentiated cells in neonates is unknown due to lethality. We use Tg(Pax2-Cre) to delete floxed Atoh1 in the inner ear. This generates viable conditional knockout (CKO) mice for studying the postnatal development of the inner ear without differentiated hair cells. Using in situ hybridization we find that Tg(Pax2-Cre) recombines the floxed Atoh1 prior to detectable Atoh1 expression. Only the posterior canal crista has Atoh1 expressing hair cells due to incomplete recombination. Most of the organ of Corti cells are lost in CKO mice via late embryonic cell deaths. Marker genes indicate that the organ of Corti is reduced to two rows of cells wedged between flanking markers of the organ of Corti (Fgf10 and Bmp4). These two rows of cells (instead of five rows of supporting cells) are positive for Prox1 in neonates. By postnatal day 14 (P14), most of the developing organ of Corti is lost through embryonic cell deaths, with the remaining cells transformed into a flat epithelium with no distinction of any specific cell type. However, some of the remaining organ of Corti cells express Myo7a at late postnatal stages and are innervated by remaining afferent fibers. Initial growth of afferents and efferents in embryos shows no difference between control mice and Tg(Pax2-Cre)::Atoh1 CKO mice. Most afferents and efferents are lost in the CKO mutant before birth, leaving only few basal and a more prominent apical innervation. Afferents focus their projections on patches that express the prosensory specifying gene, Sox2. This pattern of innervation by sensory neurons is maintained at least until P14, but fibers target the few Myo7a positive cells found in later stages.
hair cell differentiation; flat epithelium; organ of Corti; innervation of the ear; conditional deletion; mouse ear mutants
The vestibular nuclear complex (VNC) consists of a collection of sensory relay nuclei that integrates and relays information essential for coordination of eye movements, balance, and posture. Spanning the majority of the hindbrain alar plate, the rhombomere (r) origin and projection pattern of the VNC have been characterized in descriptive works using neuroanatomical tracing. However, neither the molecular identity nor developmental regulation of individual nucleus of the VNC has been determined. To begin to address this issue, we found that Hoxb1 is required for the anterior-posterior (AP) identity of precursors that contribute to the lateral vestibular nucleus (LVN). Using a gene-targeted Hoxb1-GFP reporter in the mouse, we show that the LVN precursors originate exclusively from r4 and project to the spinal cord in the stereotypic pattern of the lateral vestibulospinal tract that provides input into spinal motoneurons driving extensor muscles of the limb. The r4-derived LVN precursors express the transcription factors Phox2a and Lbx1, and the glutamatergic marker Vglut2, which together defines them as dB2 neurons. Loss of Hoxb1 function does not alter the glutamatergic phenotype of dB2 neurons, but alters their stereotyped spinal cord projection. Moreover, at the expense of Phox2a, the glutamatergic determinants Lmx1b and Tlx3 were ectopically expressed by dB2 neurons. Our study suggests that the Hox genes determine the AP identity and diversity of vestibular precursors, including their output target, by coordinating the expression of neurotransmitter determinant and target selection properties along the AP axis.
MicroRNAs (miRNAs) post-transcriptionally repress complementary target gene expression and can contribute to cell differentiation. The coordinate expression of miRNA-183 family members (miR-183, miR-96, and miR-182) has been demonstrated in sensory cells of the mouse inner ear and other vertebrate sensory organs. To further examine hair cell miRNA expression in the mouse inner ear, we have analyzed miR-183 family expression in wild type animals and various mutants with defects in neurosensory development. miR-183 family member expression follows neurosensory cell specification, exhibits longitudinal (basal-apical) gradients in maturating cochlear hair cells, and is maintained in sensory neurons and most hair cells into adulthood. Depletion of hair cell miRNAs resulting from Dicer1 conditional knockout (CKO) in Atoh1-Cre transgenic mice leads to more disparate basal-apical gene expression profiles and eventual hair cell loss. Results suggest that hair cell miRNAs subdue cochlear gradient gene expression and are required for hair cell maintenance and survival.
microRNA; Dicer; conditional knockout; inner ear; cochlea; sensory epithelium; hair cells; sensory neurons; development; maturation; maintenance
Cranial development is critically influenced by the relative growth of distinct elements. Previous studies have shown the transcription factor Foxg1 to be expressed is essential for development of telencephalon, olfactory epithelium, parts of the eye and the ear. Here we investigate the effects of a Foxg1-cre mediated conditional deletion of Dicer1 and microRNA (miRNA) on mouse embryos. We report the rapid and complete loss of the telencephalon and cerebellum as well as severe reduction in the ears and loss of the anterior half of the eyes. These losses result in unexpectedly limited malformations of anterodorsal aspects of the skull. We investigated the progressive disappearance of these initially developing structures and found a specific miRNA of nervous tissue, miR-124, to disappear prior to reduction in growth of the specific neurosensory areas. Correlated with the absence of miR-124, these areas showed numerous apoptotic cells that stained positive for anti-cleaved caspase 3 and the phosphatidylserine stain PSVue prior to the near or complete loss of those brain and sensory areas (forebrain, cerebellum, anterior retina, ear). We conclude that Foxg1-cre mediated conditional deletion of Dicer1 leads to absence of functional miRNA followed by complete or nearly complete loss of neurons. Embryonic neurosensory development therefore depends critically on miRNA. Our data suggest that loss of a given neuronal compartment can be triggered using early deletion of Dicer1 and thus provides a novel means to genetically remove specific neurosensory areas to investigate loss of their function on morphology (this study) or signal processing within the brain.
forebrain; cerebellum; eye; ear; conditional deletion; cre
In the mammalian inner ear neurosensory cell fate depends on three closely related transcription factors, Atoh1 for hair cells and Neurog1 and Neurod1 for neurons. We have previously shown that neuronal cell fate can be altered towards hair cell fate by eliminating Neurod1 mediated repression of Atoh1 expression in neurons. To test whether a similar plasticity is present in hair cell fate commitment, we have generated a knockin (KI) mouse line (Atoh1KINeurog1) in which Atoh1 is replaced by Neurog1. Expression of Neurog1 under Atoh1 promoter control alters the cellular gene expression pattern, differentiation and survival of hair cell precursors in both heterozygous (Atoh1+/KINeurog1) and homozygous (Atoh1KINeurog1/KINeurog1) KI mice. Homozygous KI mice develop patches of organ of Corti precursor cells that express Neurog1, Neurod1, several prosensory genes and neurotrophins. In addition, these patches of cells receive afferent and efferent processes. Some cells among these patches form multiple microvilli but no stereocilia. Importantly, Neurog1 expressing mutants differ from Atoh1 null mutants, as they have intermittent formation of organ of Corti-like patches, opposed to a complete ‘flat epithelium’ in the absence of Atoh1. In heterozygous KI mice co-expression of Atoh1 and Neurog1 results in change in fate and patterning of some hair cells and supporting cells in addition to the abnormal hair cell polarity in the later stages of development. This differs from haploinsufficiency of Atoh1 (Pax2cre; Atoh1f/+), indicating the effect of Neurog1 expression in developing hair cells. Our data suggest that Atoh1KINeurog1 can provide some degree of functional support for survival of organ of Corti cells. In contrast to the previously demonstrated fate plasticity of neurons to differentiate as hair cells, hair cell precursors can be maintained for a limited time by Neurog1 but do not transdifferentiate as neurons.
Atonal homolog1 (Atoh1) is a bHLH transcription factor essential for inner ear hair cell differentiation. Targeted expression of Atoh1 at various stages in development can result in hair cell differentiation in the ear. However, the level and duration of Atoh1 expression required for proper hair cell differentiation and maintenance remain unknown. We generated an Atoh1 conditional knockout (CKO) mouse line using Tg(Atoh1-cre), in which the cre expression is driven by an Atoh1 enhancer element that is regulated by Atoh1 protein to “self-terminate” its expression. The mutant mice show transient, limited expression of Atoh1 in all hair cells in the ear. In the organ of Corti, reduction and delayed deletion of Atoh1 result in progressive loss of almost all the inner hair cells and the majority of the outer hair cells within three weeks after birth. The remaining cells express hair cell marker Myo7a and attract nerve fibers, but do not differentiate normal stereocilia bundles. Some Myo7a-positive cells persist in the cochlea into adult stages in the position of outer hair cells, flanked by a single row of pillar cells and two to three rows of disorganized Deiters cells. Gene expression analyses of Atoh1, Barhl1 and Pou4f3, genes required for survival and maturation of hair cells, reveal earlier and higher expression levels in the inner compared to the outer hair cells. Our data show that Atoh1 is crucial for hair cell mechanotransduction development, viability, and maintenance and also suggest that Atoh1 expression level and duration may play a role in inner vs. outer hair cell development. These genetically engineered Atoh1 CKO mice provide a novel model for establishing critical conditions needed to regenerate viable and functional hair cells with Atoh1 therapy.
ErbB2 protein is essential for the development of Schwann cells and for the normal fiber growth and myelin formation of peripheral nerves. We have investigated the fate of the otocyst-derived inner ear sensory neurons in the absence of ErbB2 using ErbB2 null mutants. Afferent innervation of the ear sensory epithelia shows numerous fibers overshooting the organ of Corti, followed by a reduction of those fibers in near term embryos. This suggests that mature Schwann cells do not play a role in targeting or maintaining the inner ear innervation. Comparable to the overshooting of nerve fibers, sensory neurons migrate beyond their normal locations into unusual positions in the modiolus. They may miss a stop signal provided by the Schwann cells that are absent as revealed with detailed histology. Reduction of overshooting afferents may be enhanced by a reduction of the neurotrophin Ntf3 transcript to about 25% of wild type. Ntf3 transcript reductions are comparable to an adult model that uses a dominant negative form of ErbB4 expressed in the supporting cells and Schwann cells of the organ of Corti. ErbB2 null mice retain afferents to inner hair cells possibly because of the prominent expression of the neurotrophin Bdnf in developing hair cells. Despite the normal presence of Bdnf transcript, afferent fibers are disoriented near the organ of Corti. Efferent fibers do not form an intraganglionic spiral bundle in the absence of spiral ganglia and appear reduced and disorganized. This suggests that either ErbB2 mediated alterations in sensory neurons or the absence of Schwann cells affects efferent fiber growth to the organ of Corti.
Ear development; Auditory sensory neuron; Neurotrophin; Pathfinding; Neuronal migration
During hindbrain development, facial branchiomotor neurons (FBM neurons) migrate from medial rhombomere (r) 4 to lateral r6. In zebrafish, mutations in planar cell polarity genes celsr2 and frizzled3a block caudal migration of FBM neurons. Here, we investigated the role of cadherins Celsr1-3, and Fzd3 in FBM neuron migration in mice. In Celsr1 mutants (knock-out and Crash alleles), caudal migration was compromised and neurons often migrated rostrally into r2 and r3, as well as laterally. These phenotypes were not caused by defects in hindbrain patterning or neuronal specification. Celsr1 is expressed in FBM neuron precursors and the floor plate, but not in FBM neurons. Consistent with this, conditional inactivation showed that the function of Celsr1 in FBM neuron migration was non-cell autonomous. In Celsr2 mutants, FBM neurons initiated caudal migration but moved prematurely into lateral r4 and r5. This phenotype was enhanced by inactivation of Celsr3 in FBM neurons and mimicked by inactivation of Fzd3. Furthermore, Celsr2 was epistatic to Celsr1. These data indicate that Celsr1-3 differentially regulate FBM neuron migration. Celsr1 helps to specify the direction of FBM neuron migration, whereas Celsr2 and 3 control its ability to migrate.
Going beyond single gene function to cut deeper into gene regulatory networks requires multiple mutations combined in a single animal. Such analysis of two or more genes needs to be complemented with in situ hybridization of other genes, or immunohistochemistry of their proteins, both in whole mounted developing organs or sections for detailed resolution of the cellular and tissue expression alterations. Combining multiple gene alterations requires the use of cre or flipase to conditionally delete genes and avoid embryonic lethality. Required breeding schemes dramatically enhance effort and cost proportional to the number of genes mutated, with an outcome of very few animals with the full repertoire of genetic modifications desired. Amortizing the vast amount of effort and time to obtain these few precious specimens that are carrying multiple mutations necessitates tissue optimization. Moreover, investigating a single animal with multiple techniques makes it easier to correlate gene deletion defects with expression profiles. We have developed a technique to obtain a more thorough analysis of a given animal; with the ability to analyze several different histologically recognizable structures as well as gene and protein expression all from the same specimen in both whole mounted organs and sections. Although mice have been utilized to demonstrate the effectiveness of this technique it can be applied to a wide array of animals. To do this we combine lipophilic dye tracing, whole mount in situ hybridization, immunohistochemistry, and histology to extract the maximal possible amount of data.
The development of the inner ear involves complex processes of morphological changes, patterning and cell fate specification that are under strict molecular control. SOX2 and SOX9 are SOX family transcription factors that are involved in the regulation of one or more of these processes. Previous findings have shown early expression of SOX9 in the otic placode and vesicle at E8.5–E9.5. Here we describe in detail, the expression pattern of SOX9 in the developing mouse inner ear beyond the otocyst stage and compare it with that of SOX2 from E9.5 to E18.5 using double fluorescence immunohistochemistry. We found that SOX9 was widely expressed in the otic epithelium, periotic mesenchyme and cartilaginous otic capsule. SOX2 persistently marked the prosensory and sensory epithelia. During the development of the sensory epithelia, SOX2 was initially expressed in all prosensory regions and later in both the supporting and hair cells up to E15.5, when its expression in hair cells gradually diminished. SOX9 expression overlapped with that of SOX2 in the prosensory and sensory region until E14.5 when its expression was restricted to supporting cells. This initial overlap but subsequent differential expression of SOX2 and SOX9 in the sensory epithelia, suggest that SOX2 and SOX9 may have distinct roles in molecular pathways that direct cells towards different cell fates.
SOX2; SOX9; Inner ear; Otocyst; Hair cells; Sensory epithelia; Spiral ganglion
Neurod1 is a crucial basic helix-loop-helix gene for most cerebellar granule cells and mediates the differentiation of these cells downstream of Atoh1-mediated proliferation of the precursors. In Neurod1 null mice, granule cells die throughout the posterior two thirds of the cerebellar cortex during development. However, Neurod1 is also necessary for pancreatic β-cell development, and therefore Neurod1 null mice are diabetic, which potentially influences cerebellar defects. Here, we report a new Neurod1 conditional knock-out mouse model created by using a Tg(Atoh1-cre) line to eliminate Neurod1 in the cerebellar granule cell precursors. Our data confirm and extend previous work on systemic Neurod1 null mice and show that, in the central lobules, granule cells can be eradicated in the absence of Neurod1. Granule cells in the anterior lobules are partially viable and depend on as yet unknown genes, but the Purkinje cells show defects not previously recognized. Interestingly, delayed and incomplete Tg(Atoh1-cre) upregulation occurs in the most posterior lobules; this leads to near normal expression of Neurod1 with a concomitant normal differentiation of granule cells, Purkinje cells, and unipolar brush cells in lobules IX and X. Our analysis suggests that Neurod1 negatively regulates Atoh1 to ensure a rapid transition from proliferative precursors to differentiating neurons. Our data have implications for research on medulloblastoma, one of the most frequent brain tumors of children, as the results suggest that targeted overexpression of Neurod1 under Atoh1 promoter control may initiate the differentiation of these tumors.
Granule cell development; Cerebellum; Proliferation regulation; Cell death; bHLH genes; Mouse (Neurod1 null)