A novel Atoh1 "self-terminating" mouse model reveals the necessity of proper Atoh1 level and duration for hair cell differentiation and viability.
ABSTRACT: 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.
Project description: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 death. 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), the remaining cells of the organ of Corti are 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, except for the apex and few fibers in the base. 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.
Project description:The inner ear is composed of a cochlear duct and five vestibular organs in which mechanosensory hair cells play critical roles in receiving and relaying sound and balance signals to the brain. To identify novel genes associated with hair cell differentiation or function, we analyzed an archived gene expression dataset from embryonic mouse inner ear tissues. Since atonal homolog 1a (Atoh1) is a well known factor required for hair cell differentiation, we searched for genes expressed in a similar pattern with Atoh1 during inner ear development. The list from our analysis includes many genes previously reported to be involved in hair cell differentiation such as Myo6, Tecta, Myo7a, Cdh23, Atp6v1b1, and Gfi1. In addition, we identified many other genes that have not been associated with hair cell differentiation, including Tekt2, Spag6, Smpx, Lmod1, Myh7b, Kif9, Ttyh1, Scn11a and Cnga2. We examined expression patterns of some of the newly identified genes using real-time polymerase chain reaction and in situ hybridization. For example, Smpx and Tekt2, which are regulators for cytoskeletal dynamics, were shown specifically expressed in the hair cells, suggesting a possible role in hair cell differentiation or function. Here, by reanalyzing archived genetic profiling data, we identified a list of novel genes possibly involved in hair cell differentiation.
Project description:Atoh1 is a basic helix-loop-helix transcription factor necessary for the specification of inner ear hair cells and central auditory system neurons derived from the rhombic lip. We used the Cre-loxP system and two Cre-driver lines (Egr2(Cre) and Hoxb1(Cre)) to delete Atoh1 from different regions of the cochlear nucleus (CN) and accessory auditory nuclei (AAN). Adult Atoh1-conditional knock-out mice (Atoh1(CKO)) are behaviorally deaf, have diminished auditory brainstem evoked responses, and have disrupted CN and AAN morphology and connectivity. In addition, Egr2; Atoh1(CKO) mice lose spiral ganglion neurons in the cochlea and AAN neurons during the first 3 d of life, revealing a novel critical period in the development of these neurons. These new mouse models of predominantly central deafness illuminate the importance of the CN for support of a subset of peripheral and central auditory neurons.
Project description: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 (Atoh1(KINeurog1)) 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 (Atoh1(KINeurog1/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; Atoh1(f/+)), indicating the effect of Neurog1 expression in developing hair cells. Our data suggest that Atoh1(KINeurog1) 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.
Project description:At least five bHLH genes regulate cell fate determination and differentiation of sensory neurons, hair cells and supporting cells in the mammalian inner ear. Cross-regulation of Atoh1 and Neurog1 results in hair cell changes in Neurog1 null mice although the nature and mechanism of the cross-regulation has not yet been determined. Neurod1, regulated by both Neurog1 and Atoh1, could be the mediator of this cross-regulation.We used Tg(Pax2-Cre) to conditionally delete Neurod1 in the inner ear. Our data demonstrate for the first time that the absence of Neurod1 results in formation of hair cells within the inner ear sensory ganglia. Three cell types, neural crest derived Schwann cells and mesenchyme derived fibroblasts (neither expresses Neurod1) and inner ear derived neurons (which express Neurod1) constitute inner ear ganglia. The most parsimonious explanation is that Neurod1 suppresses the alternative fate of sensory neurons to develop as hair cells. In the absence of Neurod1, Atoh1 is expressed and differentiates cells within the ganglion into hair cells. We followed up on this effect in ganglia by demonstrating that Neurod1 also regulates differentiation of subtypes of hair cells in the organ of Corti. We show that in Neurod1 conditional null mice there is a premature expression of several genes in the apex of the developing cochlea and outer hair cells are transformed into inner hair cells.Our data suggest that the long noted cross-regulation of Atoh1 expression by Neurog1 might actually be mediated in large part by Neurod1. We suggest that Neurod1 is regulated by both Neurog1 and Atoh1 and provides a negative feedback for either gene. Through this and other feedback, Neurod1 suppresses alternate fates of neurons to differentiate as hair cells and regulates hair cell subtypes.
Project description:In the developing cochlea, sensory hair cell differentiation depends on the regulated expression of the bHLH transcription factor Atoh1. In mammals, if hair cells die they do not regenerate, leading to permanent deafness. By contrast, in non-mammalian vertebrates robust regeneration occurs through upregulation of Atoh1 in the surviving supporting cells that surround hair cells, leading to functional recovery. Investigation of crucial transcriptional events in the developing organ of Corti, including those involving Atoh1, has been hampered by limited accessibility to purified populations of the small number of cells present in the inner ear. We used µChIP and qPCR assays of FACS-purified cells to track changes in the epigenetic status of the Atoh1 locus during sensory epithelia development in the mouse. Dynamic changes in the histone modifications H3K4me3/H3K27me3, H3K9ac and H3K9me3 reveal a progression from poised, to active, to repressive marks, correlating with the onset of Atoh1 expression and its subsequent silencing during the perinatal (P1 to P6) period. Inhibition of acetylation blocked the increase in Atoh1 mRNA in nascent hair cells, as well as ongoing hair cell differentiation during embryonic organ of Corti development ex vivo. These results reveal an epigenetic mechanism of Atoh1 regulation underlying hair cell differentiation and subsequent maturation. Interestingly, the H3K4me3/H3K27me3 bivalent chromatin structure observed in progenitors persists at the Atoh1 locus in perinatal supporting cells, suggesting an explanation for the latent capacity of these cells to transdifferentiate into hair cells, and highlighting their potential as therapeutic targets in hair cell regeneration.
Project description:Atoh1 is required for differentiation of sensory hair cells in the vertebrate inner ear. Moreover, misexpression of Atoh1 is sufficient to establish ectopic sensory epithelia, making Atoh1 a good candidate for gene therapy to restore hearing. However, competence to form sensory epithelia appears to be limited to discrete regions of the inner ear. To better understand the developmental factors influencing sensory-competence, we examined the effects of misexpressing atoh1a in zebrafish embryos under various developmental conditions. Activation of a heat shock-inducible transgene, hs:atoh1a, resulted in ectopic expression of early markers of sensory development within 2h, and mature hair cells marked by brn3c:GFP began to accumulate 9h after heat shock. The ability of atoh1a to induce ectopic sensory epithelia was maximal when activated during placodal or early otic vesicle stages but declined rapidly thereafter. At no stage was atoh1a sufficient to induce sensory development in dorsal or lateral non-sensory regions of the otic vesicle. However, co-misexpression of atoh1a with fgf3, fgf8 or sox2, genes normally acting in the same gene network with atoh1a, stimulated sensory development in all regions of the otic vesicle. Thus, expression of fgf3, fgf8 or sox2 strongly enhances competence to respond to Atoh1.
Project description: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.
Project description:The mammalian cochlea loses its ability to regenerate new hair cells prior to the onset of hearing. In contrast, the adult vestibular system can produce new hair cells in response to damage, or by reprogramming of supporting cells with the hair cell transcription factor Atoh1. We used RNA-seq and ATAC-seq to probe the transcriptional and epigenetic responses of utricle supporting cells to damage and Atoh1 transduction. We show that the regenerative response of the utricle correlates with a more accessible chromatin structure in utricle supporting cells compared to their cochlear counterparts. We also provide evidence that Atoh1 transduction of supporting cells is able to promote increased transcriptional accessibility of some hair cell genes. Our study offers a possible explanation for regenerative differences between sensory organs of the inner ear, but shows that additional factors to Atoh1 may be required for optimal reprogramming of hair cell fate.
Project description:Postnatal mammalian cochlear hair cells (HCs) can be regenerated by direct transdifferentiation or by mitotic regeneration from supporting cells through many pathways, including Atoh1, Wnt, Hedgehog and Notch signaling. However, most new HCs are immature HCs. In this study we used RNA-Seq analysis to compare the differences between the transcriptomes of Atoh1 overexpression-induced new HCs and the native HCs, and to define the factors that might help to promote the maturation of new HCs. As expected, we found Atoh1-induced new HCs had obvious HC characteristics as demonstrated by the expression of HC markers such as Pou4f3 and Myosin VIIA (Myo7a). However, Atoh1-induced new HCs had significantly lower expression of genes that are related to HC function such as Slc26a5 (Prestin), Slc17a8 and Otof. We found that genes related to HC cell differentiation and maturation (Kcnma1, Myo6, Myo7a, Grxcr1, Gfi1, Wnt5a, Fgfr1, Gfi1, Fgf8 etc.) had significantly lower expression levels in new HCs compared to native HCs. In conclusion, we found a set of genes that might regulate the differentiation and maturation of new HCs, and these genes might serve as potential new therapeutic targets for functional HC regeneration and hearing recovery.