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Keywords:

  • growth factors;
  • neurofilaments;
  • progenitor;
  • proliferation;
  • sprouting

Abstract

Following injury to the adult mammalian cochlea, hair cells cannot be spontaneously replaced. Nonetheless, the postnatal cochlea contains progenitor cells, distinguished by the expression of nestin, which are able to proliferate and form neurospheres in vitro. Such resident progenitors might be endowed with reparative potential. However, to date little is known about their behaviour in situ following hair cell injury. Using adult mice and ex vivo cochlear cultures, we sought to determine whether: (i) resident cochlear progenitors respond to kanamycin ototoxicity and compensate for it; and (ii) the reparative potential of cochlear progenitors can be stimulated by the addition of growth factors. Morphological changes of cochlear tissue, expression of nestin mRNA and protein and cell proliferation were investigated in these models. Our observations show that ototoxic injury has modest effects on nestin expression and cell proliferation. On the other hand, the addition of growth factors to the injured cochlear explants induced the appearance of nestin-positive cells in the supporting cell area of the organ of Corti. The vast majority of nestin-expressing cells, however, were not proliferating. Growth factors also had a robust stimulatory effect on axonal sprouting and the proliferative response, which was more pronounced in injured cochleae. On the whole, our findings indicate that nestin expression after kanamycin ototoxicity is related to tissue reactivity rather than activation of resident progenitors attempting to replace the lost receptors. In addition, administration of growth factors significantly enhances tissue remodelling, suggesting that cochlear repair may be promoted by the exogenous application of regeneration-promoting substances.