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Understanding the evolution and development of neurosensory transcription factors of the ear to enhance therapeutic translation

Abstract

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.

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Acknowledgments

This work was supported by NIH grants R01 DC 005590 (to B.F.), CTSA UL1RR024979 (to B.K.) and P30 DC 010362 (http://www.nidcd.nih.gov). We also acknowledge the support from the Office of the Vice President for Research (https://research.uiowa.edu/ovpr/office-vp-research) and College of Liberal Arts & Sciences (http://www.clas.uiowa.edu) at the University of Iowa.

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Correspondence to Bernd Fritzsch.

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Pan, N., Kopecky, B., Jahan, I. et al. Understanding the evolution and development of neurosensory transcription factors of the ear to enhance therapeutic translation. Cell Tissue Res 349, 415–432 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00441-012-1454-0

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Keywords

  • Inner ear
  • Development
  • Hair cell
  • Restoration
  • Transcription factor