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Hair cell replacement in adult mouse utricles after targeted ablation of hair cells with diphtheria toxin

Golub, JS;Tong, L;Ngyuen, TB;Hume, CR;Palmiter, RD;Rubel, EW;Stone, JS;

We developed a transgenic mouse to permit conditional and selective ablation of hair cells in the adult mouse utricle by inserting the human diphtheria toxin receptor (DTR) gene into the Pou4f3 gene, which encodes a hair cell-specific transcription factor. In adult wild-type mice, administration of diphtheria toxin (DT) caused no significant hair cell loss. In adult Pou4f3(+/DTR) mice, DT treatment reduced hair cell numbers to 6% of normal by 14 days post-DT. Remaining hair cells were located primarily in the lateral extrastriola. Over time, hair cell numbers increased in these regions, reaching 17% of untreated Pou4f3(+/DTR) mice by 60 days post-DT. Replacement hair cells were morphologically distinct, with multiple cytoplasmic processes, and displayed evidence for active mechanotransduction channels and synapses characteristic of type II hair cells. Three lines of evidence suggest replacement hair cells were derived via direct (nonmitotic) transdifferentiation of supporting cells: new hair cells did not incorporate BrdU, supporting cells upregulated the pro-hair cell gene Atoh1, and supporting cell numbers decreased over time. This study introduces a new method for efficient conditional hair cell ablation in adult mouse utricles and demonstrates that hair cells are spontaneously regenerated in vivo in regions where there may be ongoing hair cell turnover.