ABSTRACT The cochlea, a coiled structure located in the ventral region of the inner ear, acts as the primary structure for the perception of sound. Along the length of the cochlear spiral is the organ of Corti, a highly derived and rigorously patterned sensory epithelium that acts to convert auditory stimuli into neural impulses. The development of the organ of Corti requires a series of inductive events that specify unique cellular characteristics and axial identities along its three major axes. Here, we review recent studies of the cellular and molecular processes regulating several aspects of cochlear development, such as axial patterning, cochlear outgrowth and cellular differentiation. We highlight how the precise coordination of multiple signaling pathways is required for the successful formation of a complete organ of Corti.
Developmental remodeling of the sensory epithelium of the cochlea is required for the formation of an elongated, tonotopically organized auditory organ, but the cellular processes that mediate these events are largely unknown. We used both morphological assessments of cellular rearrangements and time-lapse imaging to visualize cochlear remodeling in mouse. Analysis of cell redistribution showed that the cochlea extends through a combination of radial intercalation and cell growth. Live imaging demonstrated that concomitant cellular intercalation results in a brief period of epithelial convergence, although subsequent changes in cell size lead to medial-lateral spreading. Supporting cells, which retain contact with the basement membrane, exhibit biased protrusive activity and directed movement along the axis of extension. By contrast, hair cells lose contact with the basement membrane, but contribute to continued outgrowth through increased cell size. Regulation of cellular protrusions, movement and intercalation within the cochlea all require myosin II. These results establish, for the first time, many of the cellular processes that drive the distribution of sensory cells along the tonotopic axis of the cochlea.