ERBB2 signaling drives supporting cell proliferation in vitro and apparent supernumerary hair cell formation in vivo in the neonatal mouse cochlea

J Zhang, etc
European Journal of Neuroscience, 2018

In mammals, cochlear hair cells are not regenerated once they are lost, leading to permanent hearing deficits. In other vertebrates, the adjacent supporting cells act as a stem cell compartment, in that they both proliferate and differentiate into de novo auditory hair cells. Although there is evidence that mammalian cochlear supporting cells can differentiate into new hair cells, the signals that regulate this process are poorly characterized. We hypothesize that signaling from the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) family may play a role in cochlear regeneration. We focus on one such member, ERBB2, and report the effects of expressing a constitutively active ERBB2 receptor in neonatal mouse cochlear supporting cells, using viruses and transgenic expression. Lineage tracing with fluorescent reporter proteins was used to determine the relationships between cells with active ERBB2 signaling and cells that divided or differentiated into hair cells. In vitro, individual supporting cells harbouring a constitutively active ERBB2 receptor appeared to signal to their neighbouring supporting cells, inducing them to down-regulate a supporting cell marker and to proliferate. In vivo, we found supernumerary hair cell-like cells near supporting cells that expressed ERBB2 receptors. Both supporting cell proliferation and hair cell differentiation were largely reproduced in vitro using small molecules that we show also activate ERBB2. Our data suggest that signaling from the receptor tyrosine kinase ERBB2 can drive the activation of secondary signaling pathways to regulate regeneration, suggesting a new model where an interplay of cell signaling regulates regeneration by endogenous stem-like cells.

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European Journal of Neuroscience
doi: 10.1111/ejn.14183
University of Rochester School of Medicine