Developmental changes in cell–extracellular matrix interactions limit proliferation in the mammalian inner ear


Dr Dawn Davies, *present address below.


Hair cell losses can produce severe hearing and balance deficits in mammals and nonmammals alike, but nonmammals recover after epithelial supporting cells divide and give rise to replacement hair cells. Here, we describe cellular changes that appear to underlie the permanence of hair cell deficits in mammalian vestibular organs. In sensory epithelia isolated from the utricles of embryonic day 18 (E18) mice, supporting cells readily spread and proliferated, but spreading and proliferation were infrequent in supporting cells from postnatal day 6 (P6) mice. Cellular spreading and proliferation were dependent on α6 integrin, which disappeared from lateral cell membranes by P6 and colocalized with β4 integrin near the basement membrane at both ages. In the many well-spread, proliferating E18 supporting cells, β4 was localized at cell borders, but it was localized to hemidesmosome-like structures in the columnar, nondividing supporting cells that were prevalent in P6 cultures. We treated cultures with phorbol myristate acetate (PMA) to activate protein kinase C (PKC) in an initial test of the possibility that maturational changes in supporting cell cytoskeletons or their anchorage might restrict the proliferation of these progenitor cells in the developing mammalian inner ear. That treatment triggered the disassembly of the hemidesmosome-like β4 structures and resulted in significantly increased cellular spreading and S-phase entry in the P6 epithelia. The results suggest that maturational changes in cytoskeletal organization and anchorage restrict proliferation of mammalian supporting cells whose counterparts are the progenitors of replacement hair cells in nonmammals, thereby leaving mammals vulnerable to persistent sensory deficits caused by hair cell loss.