Patterining of the Vertebrate Inner Ear
House Ear Institute, USC
Los Angeles, CA
The Collazo lab is dedicated to the identification of genes that are involved in the formation of auditory and vestibular sensory cells (called hair cells) as well as in patterning the ear. The inner ear is a complex, asymmetrical structure whose sensory cells form in a precise geometric pattern that is crucial for their normal function in hearing and balance. Hearing impairment is not just a problem affecting the elderly, as it is also one of the more common birth defects with approximately 20% of deaf newborns have inner ear malformations that are readily visible using radiological examination. What causes these inner ear malformations and why they should lead to hearing loss, as well as balance disorders, is often unknown. To address this question, one project is utilizing embryological manipulations to understand which genes are necessary and sufficient for patterning different regions of the developing inner ear. Another project in the laboratory has identified a transcription factor (a gene that turns other genes on and off) that is involved in the decision of whether a cell becomes a sensory hair cell or the neuron that wires the ear to the brain. Mutations of this gene in humans can result in a debilitating syndrome with hearing loss.