The acquisition of positional information across the radial axis of the cochlea.

Vidhya Munnamalai, The Jackson Laboratory
Donna M Fekete


The mammalian cochlea detects sound and transmits this information to the brain. A cross section through the cochlea reveals functionally distinct epithelial domains arrayed around the circumference of a fluid-filled duct. Six major domains include two on the roof of the duct (Reissner's membrane medially and the stria vascularis laterally) and four across the floor of the duct, including the medial and lateral halves of the sensory domain, the organ of Corti. These radial domains are distinguishable in the embryonic cochlea by differential expression of transcription factors, and we focus here on a subset of the factors that can influence cochlear fates. We then move upstream of these genes to identify which of five signaling pathways (Notch, Fgf, Wnt, Bmp, and Shh) controls their spatial patterns of expression. We link the signaling pathways to their downstream genes, separating them by their radial position, to create putative gene regulatory networks (GRNs) from two time points, before and during the time when six radial compartments arise. These GRNs offer a framework for understanding the acquisition of positional information across the radial axis of the cochlea, and to guide therapeutic approaches to repair or regenerate distinct cochlear components that may contribute to hearing loss.