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The physiology and development of auditory cells are rather similar among different species. However, whereas in humans hearing loss is irreversible and leads to permanent deafness, other vertebrates can regenerate their hearing cells over the course of their lives. 

The Sensory Cell Biology and Organogenesis Laboratory, led by Hernán López-Schier at the Centre for Genomic Regulation (CRG), has been studying the mechanisms that enable zebrafish to regenerate their hearing cells—namely, the reestablishment of sensory organ architecture. They recently reported their findings in the journal Development

“The findings published in this work are testament to the major importance of progenitor cells in regeneration,” explains López-Schier, the principal investigator of the project. “We now know the mechanism which enables certain animals to retain their sensory abilities over the course of their lives. We hope that these discoveries will prove valuable for the development of regenerative medicine strategies and help improve certain problems with loss of hearing or balance in humans,” he adds.

Using high-resolution images of live transgenic zebrafish, the group elucidated a previously unknown type of cellular behavior in tissue organization, which they have dubbed planar cell inversions. Said behavior reveals a mechanism that could prove paramount in maintaining cellular orientation in other plastic tissue types that feature highly directional cellular movement, such as those of the kidneys, lungs, or cerebral ventricles.

Why are tissue architecture and polarity important?

The three-dimensional architecture of tissue is crucial for proper organ function. This structure must be maintained throughout an organism’s lifetime and reestablished during organ repair; indeed, loss of proper tissue architecture can have devastating pathologic consequences for humans. Thus, the CRG group focused on the architecture and orientation of tissue to explain the mechanisms used to recuperate hearing in zebrafish, an animal model of cellular regeneration.

The work was made possible by a European Research Council (ERC) Starting Grant won by López-Schier, as well as by support from the Ministry of Science and Innovation, and the FCT of Portugal (through a grant won by doctoral student Filipe Pinto-Texeira).

Cited publication: Wibowo I., Pinto-Texeira F., Satou C., Higashijima S. and López-Schier H., Compartmentalized Notch signaling sustains epithelial mirror symmetry. Development (2011), doi:10.1242/dev.060566

Videos of sensory organ cellular regeneration

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