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Development of Mammalian Auditory Sensory Organ

   We are interested in the morphogenesis of the mammalian auditory sensory organ. The mammalian auditory organ, the organ of Corti, consists of highly stereotyped arrays of sensory hair cells and supporting cells suspended along the cochlea duct. During development, the precursor cells that give rise to the organ of Corti withdraw from the cell cycle synchronously prior to initiation of terminal differentiation. Subsequently, the postmitotic organ of Corti undergoes terminal differentiation in a gradient along both the basal-to-apical and medial-to-lateral axes of the cochlea to form a polarized sensory mosaic topographically innervated by acoustic ganglion neurons. This terminal differentiation of the organ of Corti is accompanied by the continued growth of the coiled cochlea and its sensory organ independent of cell division.

Embryo Ear Development

   Our research is focused on two tightly coupled morphogenetic processes using a combined approach of molecular biology, cell biology, biochemistry, and genetics. The first emphasis is to study the molecular mechanisms regulating cellular differentiation during the development of the organ of Corti. In particular, we are interested at how individual cells in the cochlea are singled out to become the precursors of the sensory epithelium, how the precursor cells subsequently know either to terminally differentiate into sensory hair cells or supporting cells, and how the differentiation gradient is established. In addition, we examine the cellular and molecular mechanisms that shape the unique features of the mammalian auditory organ during terminal differentiation. We are interested at how the coiled growth of the postmitotic organ of Corti is achieved and this growth is coupled to the establishment of the precise cellular arrangement and polarity of the organ of Corti.

   Deafness is one of the most common birth defects in humans. Many forms of deafness are due to defects in these developmental processes. Our study may reveal molecular mechanisms underlying deafness and provide important clues for applications targeted for hearing improvement.

Last Updated: 2011-07-25