• inner ear specification;
  • semicircular canals;
  • cristae;
  • endolymphatic apparatus;
  • otic innervation;
  • signaling pathways


We are interested in stable gene network activities operating sequentially during inner ear specification. The implementation of this patterning process is a key event in the generation of functional subdivisions of the otic vesicle during early embryonic development. The vertebrate inner ear is a complex sensory structure that is a good model system for characterization of developmental mechanisms controlling patterning and specification. Meis genes, belonging to the TALE family, encode homodomain-containing transcription factors remarkably conserved during evolution, which play a role in normal and neoplastic development. To gain understanding of the possible role of homeobox Meis genes in the developing chick inner ear, we comprehensively analyzed their spatiotemporal expression patterns from early otic specification stages onwards. In the invaginating otic placode, Meis1/2 transcripts were observed in the borders of the otic cup, being absent in the portion of otic epithelium closest to the hindbrain. As development proceeds, Meis1 and Meis2 expressions became restricted to the dorsomedial otic epithelium. Both genes were strongly expressed in the entire presumptive domain of the semicircular canals, and more weakly in all associated cristae. The endolymphatic apparatus was labeled in part by Meis1/2. Meis1 was also expressed in the lateral wall of the growing cochlear duct, while Meis2 expression was detected in a few cells of the developing acoustic-vestibular ganglion. Our results suggest a possible role of Meis assigning regional identity in the morphogenesis, patterning, and specification of the developing inner ear. J. Comp. Neurol. 519:125-147, 2011. © 2010 Wiley-Liss, Inc.