Alternative splicing contributes to gene expression dynamics in many tissues, yet its role in auditory development remains unclear. We performed whole-exome sequencing in individuals with sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL) and identified pathogenic mutations in Epithelial Splicing-Regulatory Protein 1 (ESRP1). Patient-derived induced pluripotent stem cells showed alternative splicing defects that were restored upon repair of an ESRP1 mutant allele. To determine how ESRP1 mutations cause hearing loss, we evaluated Esrp1-/- mouse embryos and uncovered alterations in cochlear morphogenesis, auditory hair cell differentiation, and cell fate specification. Transcriptome analysis revealed impaired expression and splicing of genes with essential roles in cochlea development and auditory function. Aberrant splicing of Fgfr2 blocked stria vascularis formation due to erroneous ligand usage, which was corrected by reducing Fgf9 gene dosage. These findings implicate mutations in ESRP1 as a cause of SNHL and demonstrate the complex interplay between alternative splicing, inner ear development, and auditory function.
Vestibular hair cells in the inner ear encode head movements and mediate the sense of balance. These cells undergo cell death and replacement (turnover) throughout life in non-mammalian vertebrates. However, there is no definitive evidence that this process occurs in mammals. We used fate-mapping and other methods to demonstrate that utricular type II vestibular hair cells undergo turnover in adult mice under normal conditions. We found that supporting cells phagocytose both type I and II hair cells. Plp1-CreERT2-expressing supporting cells replace type II hair cells. Type I hair cells are not restored by Plp1-CreERT2-expressing supporting cells or by Atoh1-CreERTM-expressing type II hair cells. Destruction of hair cells causes supporting cells to generate 6 times as many type II hair cells compared to normal conditions. These findings expand our understanding of sensorineural plasticity in adult vestibular organs and further elucidate the roles that supporting cells serve during homeostasis and after injury.
Hair cells of the inner ear are damaged by intense noise, aging, and aminoglycoside antibiotics. Gentamicin causes oxidative damage to hair cells, inducing apoptosis. In mammals, hair cell loss results in a permanent deficit in hearing and balance. In contrast, avians can regenerate lost hair cells to restore auditory and vestibular function. This study examined the changes of myosin VI and myosin VIIa, two unconventional myosins that are critical for normal hair cell formation and function, during hair cell death and regeneration. During the late stages of apoptosis, damaged hair cells are ejected from the sensory epithelium. There was a 4-5-fold increase in the labeling intensity of both myosins and a redistribution of myosin VI into the stereocilia bundle, concurrent with ejection. Two separate mechanisms were observed during hair cell regeneration. Proliferating supporting cells began DNA synthesis 60 hours after gentamicin treatment and peaked at 72 hours postgentamicin treatment. Some of these mitotically produced cells began to differentiate into hair cells at 108 hours after gentamicin (36 hours after bromodeoxyuridine (BrdU) administration), as demonstrated by the colabeling of myosin VI and BrdU. Myosin VIIa was not expressed in the new hair cells until 120 hours after gentamicin. Moreover, a population of supporting cells expressed myosin VI at 78 hours after gentamicin treatment and myosin VIIa at 90 hours. These cells did not label for BrdU and differentiated far too early to be of mitotic origin, suggesting they arose by direct transdifferentiation of supporting cells into hair cells.