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Transcription factor GATA-3 alters pathway selection of olivocochlear neurons and affects morphogenesis of the ear



Patterning the vertebrate ear requires the coordinated expression of genes that are involved in morphogenesis, neurogenesis, and hair cell formation. The zinc finger gene GATA-3 is expressed both in the inner ear and in afferent and efferent auditory neurons. Specifically, GATA-3 is expressed in a population of neurons in rhombomere 4 that extend their axons across the floor plate of rhombomere 4 (r4) at embryonic day 10 (E10) and reach the sensory epithelia of the ear by E13.5. The distribution of their cell bodies corresponds to that of the cell bodies of the cochlear and vestibular efferent neurons as revealed by labeling with tracers. Both GATA-3 heterozygous and GATA-3 null mutant mice show unusual axonal projections, such as misrouted crossing fibers and fibers in the facial nerve, that are absent in wild-type littermates. This suggests that GATA-3 is involved in the pathfinding of efferent neuron axons that navigate to the ear. In the ear, GATA-3 is expressed inside the otocyst and the surrounding periotic mesenchyme. The latter expression is in areas of branching of the developing ear leading to the formation of semicircular canals. Ears of GATA-3 null mutants remain cystic, with a single extension of the endolymphatic duct and no formation of semicircular canals or saccular and utricular recesses. Thus, both the distribution of GATA-3 and the effects of null mutations on the ear suggest involvement of GATA-3 in morphogenesis of the ear. This study shows for the first time that a zinc finger factor is involved in axonal navigation of the inner ear efferent neurons and, simultaneously, in the morphogenesis of the inner ear. J. Comp. Neurol. 429:615–630, 2001. © 2000 Wiley-Liss, Inc.