The International Journal of Developmental Biology

Int. J. Dev. Biol. 51: 633 - 647 (2007)

Vol 51, Issue 6-7

Special Issue: Ear Development

Hair cell regeneration in the avian auditory epithelium

Published: 1 September 2007

Jennifer S. Stone1,* and Douglas A. Cotanche2

1Virginia Merrill Bloedel Hearing Research Center, Department of Otolaryngology and Head and Neck Surgery, University of Washington Seattle, WA and 2Department of Otolaryngology, Children's Hospital Boston, Department of Otology and Laryngology, Harvard Medical School and Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology, Boston, MA, USA


Regeneration of sensory hair cells in the mature avian inner ear was first described just over 20 years ago. Since then, it has been shown that many other non-mammalian species either continually produce new hair cells or regenerate them in response to trauma. However, mammals exhibit limited hair cell regeneration, particularly in the auditory epithelium. In birds and other non-mammals, regenerated hair cells arise from adjacent non-sensory (supporting) cells. Hair cell regeneration was initially described as a proliferative response whereby supporting cells re-enter the mitotic cycle, forming daughter cells that differentiate into either hair cells or supporting cells and thereby restore cytoarchitecture and function in the sensory epithelium. However, further analyses of the avian auditory epithelium (and amphibian vestibular epithelium) revealed a second regenerative mechanism, direct transdifferentiation, during which supporting cells change their gene expression and convert into hair cells without dividing. In the chicken auditory epithelium, these two distinct mechanisms show unique spatial and temporal patterns, suggesting they are differentially regulated. Current efforts are aimed at identifying signals that maintain supporting cells in a quiescent state or direct them to undergo direct transdifferentiation or cell division. Here, we review current knowledge about supporting cell properties and discuss candidate signaling molecules for regulating supporting cell behavior, in quiescence and after damage. While significant advances have been made in understanding regeneration in non-mammals over the last 20 years, we have yet to determine why the mammalian auditory epithelium lacks the ability to regenerate hair cells spontaneously and whether it is even capable of significant regeneration under additional circumstances. The continued study of mechanisms controlling regeneration in the avian auditory epithelium may lead to strategies for inducing significant and functional regeneration in mammals.


proliferation, transdifferentiation, cell cycle, cell fate, Notch, apoptosis, BrdU, Atoh1

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