Mitochondrial dynamics regulate cell size in the developing cochlea

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In multicellular tissues, cell size and shape are intricately linked with physiological function. In the vertebrate auditory organ, the neurosensory epithelium develops as a mosaic of sensory hair cells (HCs), and their glial-like supporting cells (SCs), which have distinct morphologies at different frequency positions along its tonotopic long axis. In the chick cochlea, the basilar papilla (BP), proximal (high-frequency) HCs are larger than their distal (low-frequency) counterparts, a morphological feature essential for frequency tuning. Mitochondrial dynamics, which constitute the equilibrium between fusion and fission, regulate differentiation and functional refinement across a variety of cell types. We investigate this a potential mechanism for cell size regulation in developing HCs. Using live imaging in intact BP explants, we identify distinct remodelling of mitochondrial networks in proximal compared to distal HCs. Manipulating mitochondrial dynamics in developing HCs alters their normal morphology along the proximal-distal (tonotopic) axis. Inhibition of the mitochondrial fusion machinery decreased proximal HC size, whilst promotion of fusion increased the distal HC size. We identify mitochondrial dynamics as a key regulator of HC size and morphology in developing inner ear epithelia.

Summary Statement

Mitochondrial remodelling drives developmental changes in cell size in the auditory sensory epithelium. Our data reveal a fundamental mechanism regulating cell size and frequency-place coding in the developing cochlea.

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