The inner ear forms from paired ectodermal primordia that lie to either side of the developing hindbrain. Initially each primordium forms a shallow depression in the ectodermal surface. Invagination to form an otic pit coincides with the formation of several deep folds in the epithelial surface. An initial fold appears parallel to the embryonic axis and at the junction of the rhombencephalon with somitomeric mesoderm. This is followed by formation of cranial and caudal folds perpendicular to the axis and minor folds that are within the pit formed by earlier folding. The central region of the otic primordium remains in close apposition to the lateral surface of the neural tube during the process of fold formation, until the otic pit becomes quite deep. At that time, mesenchymal cells penetrate between the two layers.
Experimental analysis of invagination supports the conclusion that otic invagination is controlled differently from that of similar organ primordia, such as the eye and thyroid. Whereas these other primordia can be stimulated to undergo normal morphogenetic shape changes precociously by treatments that presumably activate motile processes in the cytoskeleton, the same conditions have little effect on the otic placode. Similarly, neither inhibitors of calcium transport nor inactivators of calmodulin activity prevent otic pit formation, while these drugs block invagination of other primordia. These results suggest that otic invagination may be caused by changes in the surrounding tissues rather than by an activation of motility within the primordium.