The International Journal of Developmental Biology

Int. J. Dev. Biol. 51: 535 - 547 (2007)

Vol 51, Issue 6-7

Special Issue: Ear Development

Shaping the mammalian auditory sensory organ by the planar cell polarity pathway

Published: 30 November -0001

Michael Kelly and Ping Chen*

Department of Cell Biology, Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta, GA, USA


The human ear is capable of processing sound with a remarkable resolution over a wide range of intensity and frequency. This ability depends largely on the extraordinary feats of the hearing organ, the organ of Corti and its sensory hair cells. The organ of Corti consists of precisely patterned rows of sensory hair cells and supporting cells along the length of the snail-shaped cochlear duct. On the apical surface of each hair cell, several rows of actin-containing protrusions, known as stereocilia, form a "V"-shaped staircase. The vertices of all the "V"-shaped stereocilia point away from the center of the cochlea. The uniform orientation of stereocilia in the organ of Corti manifests a distinctive form of polarity known as planar cell polarity (PCP). Functionally, the direction of stereociliary bundle deflection controls the mechanical channels located in the stereocilia for auditory transduction. In addition, hair cells are tonotopically organized along the length of the cochlea. Thus, the uniform orientation of stereociliary bundles along the length of the cochlea is critical for effective mechanotransduction and for frequency selection. Here we summarize the morphological and molecular events that bestow the structural characteristics of the mammalian hearing organ, the growth of the snail-shaped cochlear duct and the establishment of PCP in the organ of Corti. The PCP of the sensory organs in the vestibule of the inner ear will also be described briefly.


convergent extension, organ of Corti, hair cell, primary cilia, stereocilia

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