Transdifferentiation is uncoupled from progenitor pool expansion during hair cell regeneration in the zebrafish inner ear

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Death of mechanosensory hair cells in the inner ear is a common cause of auditory and vestibular impairment in mammals, which have a limited ability to regrow these cells after damage. In contrast, non-mammalian vertebrates including zebrafish can robustly regenerate hair cells following severe organ damage. The zebrafish inner ear provides an understudied model system for understanding hair cell regeneration in organs that are highly conserved with their mammalian counterparts. Here we quantitatively examine hair cell addition during growth and regeneration of the larval zebrafish inner ear. We used a genetically encoded ablation method to induce hair cell death and observed gradual regeneration with correct spatial patterning over two weeks following ablation. Supporting cells, which surround and are a source of new hair cells, divide in response to hair cell ablation, expanding the possible progenitor pool. In parallel, nascent hair cells arise from direct transdifferentiation of progenitor pool cells uncoupled from progenitor division. These findings reveal a previously unrecognized mechanism of hair cell regeneration with implications for how hair cells may be encouraged to regenerate in the mammalian ear.


Hair cell regeneration in the zebrafish inner ear occurs through transdifferentiation after a transient wave of supporting cell proliferation that expands the precursor pool.

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