Cross-regulation of Ngn1 and Math1 coordinates the production of neurons and sensory hair cells during inner ear development.
ABSTRACT Temporal and spatial coordination of multiple cell fate decisions is essential for proper organogenesis. Here, we define gene interactions that transform the neurogenic epithelium of the developing inner ear into specialized mechanosensory receptors. By Cre-loxP fate mapping, we show that vestibular sensory hair cells derive from a previously neurogenic region of the inner ear. The related bHLH genes Ngn1 (Neurog1) and Math1 (Atoh1) are required, respectively, for neural and sensory epithelial development in this system. Our analysis of mouse mutants indicates that a mutual antagonism between Ngn1 and Math1 regulates the transition from neurogenesis to sensory cell production during ear development. Furthermore, we provide evidence that the transition to sensory cell production involves distinct autoregulatory behaviors of Ngn1 (negative) and Math1 (positive). We propose that Ngn1, as well as promoting neurogenesis, maintains an uncommitted progenitor cell population through Notch-mediated lateral inhibition, and Math1 irreversibly commits these progenitors to a hair-cell fate.
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ABSTRACT: Otoconia are bio-crystals which couple mechanic forces to the sensory hair cells in the utricle and saccule, a process essential for us to sense linear acceleration and gravity for the purpose of maintaining bodily balance. In fish, structurally similar bio-crystals called otoliths mediate both balance and hearing. Otoconia abnormalities are common and can cause vertigo and imbalance in humans. However, the molecular etiology of these illnesses is unknown, as investigators have only begun to identify genes important for otoconia formation in recent years. To date, in-depth studies of selected mouse otoconial proteins have been performed, and about 75 zebrafish genes have been identified to be important for otolith development. This review will summarize recent findings as well as compare otoconia and otolith development. It will provide an updated brief review of otoconial proteins along with an overview of the cells and cellular processes involved. While continued efforts are needed to thoroughly understand the molecular mechanisms underlying otoconia and otolith development, it is clear that the process involves a series of temporally and spatially specific events that are tightly coordinated by numerous proteins. Such knowledge will serve as the foundation to uncover the molecular causes of human otoconia-related disorders. Developmental Dynamics, 2014. © 2014 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.Developmental Dynamics 09/2014; · 2.67 Impact Factor
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ABSTRACT: The generation of sensory neurons and hair cells of the inner ear is under tight control. Different members of the Hairy and Enhancer of Split genes (HES) are expressed in the inner ear, their full array of functions still not being disclosed. We have previously shown that zebrafish her9 acts as a patterning gene to restrict otic neurogenesis to an anterior domain. Here, we disclose the role of another her gene, her4, a zebrafish ortholog of Hes5 that is expressed in the neurogenic and sensory domains of the inner ear. The expression of her4 is highly dynamic and spatiotemporally regulated. We demonstrate by loss of function experiments that in the neurogenic domain her4 expression is under the regulation of neurogenin1 (neurog1) and the Notch pathway. Moreover, her4 participates in lateral inhibition during otic neurogenesis since her4 knockdown results in overproduction of the number of neurog1 and deltaB-positive otic neurons. In contrast, during sensorigenesis her4 is initially Notch-independent and induced by atoh1b in a broad prosensory domain. At later stages her4 expression becomes Notch-dependent in the future sensory domains but loss of her4 does not result in hair cell overproduction, suggesting that there other her genes can compensate its function.PLoS ONE 01/2014; 9(10):e109860. · 3.53 Impact Factor
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ABSTRACT: In mammals, hair cells may be damaged or lost due to genetic mutation, infectious disease, chemical ototoxicity, noise and other factors, causing permanent sensorineural deafness. Regeneration of hair cells is a basic pre-requisite for recovery of hearing in deaf animals. The inner ear stem cells in the organ of Corti and vestibular utricle are the most ideal precursors for regeneration of inner ear hair cells. This review highlights some recent ﬁndings concerning the proliferation and differentiation of inner ear stem cells. The differentiation of inner ear stem cells into hair cells involves a series of signaling pathways and regulatory factors. This paper offers a comprehensive analysis of the related studies.Developmental Biology 06/2014; · 3.64 Impact Factor
During ear development, diverse components of a sensory pathway –
neurons, mechanosensory hair cells, supporting cells and other non-
sensory epithelial cells – derive from a simple ectodermal placode.
These cell fate decisions are temporally and spatially regulated over a
period when the placode, through growth and morphogenesis,
transforms into an otocyst and, later, the inner ear labyrinth (see Fig.
1A) (Barald and Kelly, 2004; Kiernan et al., 2002). Early on, a subset
of otic epithelial cells expresses neural fate markers (Raft et al., 2004;
Cole et al., 2000; Adam et al., 1998), delaminates from the otocyst,
and forms the VIIIth cranial ganglion rudiment with neural crest-
derived glial precursors (D’Amico-Martel and Noden, 1983). In mice,
hair cell production begins about 3.5 days after the onset of neurogenic
gene expression (Shailam et al., 1999). Hair cells and supporting cells
remain epithelial and form six discrete sensory patches along the inner
ear labyrinth (Sher, 1971). Five sensory epithelia mediate the sense of
balance (the utricular macula, saccular macula, and three cristae) and
one – the organ of Corti – detects sound.
Morphological and genetic homologies between the sensory
organs of the vertebrate ear and insects raise the question of whether
neurons and hair cells derive from a common progenitor cell type
(Fekete and Wu, 2002; Adam et al., 1998). Direct evidence for this
is limited to one recent study in chicken that found clonal relatives
of VIIIth ganglion neurons within the utricular macula and adjacent
non-sensory epithelium (Satoh and Fekete, 2005). Existing evidence
for such a relationship in mammals is circumstantial (Matei et al.,
2005; Raft et al., 2004).
Otic neurogenesis and hair cell generation are each dependent
on an Atonal-related bHLH transcription factor. neurogenin 1
(Ngn1; also known as Neurog1 – Mouse Genome Informatics) is
necessary for the commitment of otocyst epithelial cells to a
neural fate, as Ngn1–/–embryos lack an VIIIth cranial ganglion
and fail to express neural fate markers in the otocyst (Ma et al.,
1998; Ma et al., 2000). By contrast, Math1 (also known as Atoh1
– Mouse Genome Informatics) is necessary and sufficient for hair
cell generation (Bermingham et al., 1999; Zheng and Gao, 2000;
Izumikawa et al., 2005). Thus, during ear development, Ngn1 and
Math1 function as determination factors, but it is not known
whether their expression is regulated in a coordinated manner. In
other neural systems, bHLH genes cross-regulate to control the
commitment of progenitor cells to alternative fates (Bertrand et
Mash/Math/Ngn1 genes in the sequential production of retinal
neurons and glia (Inoue et al., 2002; Akagi et al., 2004), and in the
simultaneous production of distinct neural subtypes in the
forebrain and spinal cord (Fode et al., 2000; Gowan et al., 2001).
Here, we identify a progenitor cell field that produces both
neurons and hair cells and describe genetic interactions mediating a
neural-hair cell fate decision. We show that neural precursor and hair
cell production overlap in the otic epithelium for several days and
demonstrate by fate mapping that the Ngn1-expressing neurogenic
region is transformed into the sensory maculae of the utricle and
saccule. We propose that this transformation is governed by a mutual
antagonism between Ngn1 and Math1. We also show that Ngn1
negatively regulates its own expression through Notch-mediated
lateral inhibition, whereas Math1 positively regulates its own
expression. Differential autoregulation of Ngn1and Math1provides
an explanation for the progression toward sensory epithelial
development over time. Ngn1, as well as generating neural
precursors, functions via lateral inhibition to maintain an
uncommitted progenitor cell population for sensory epithelial
development; Math1, in turn, irreversibly commits these progenitors
to a hair cell fate.
2002). Examples include the involvement of
Cross-regulation of Ngn1 and Math1 coordinates the
production of neurons and sensory hair cells during inner ear
Steven Raft1, Edmund J. Koundakjian2, Herson Quinones3, Chathurani S. Jayasena1, Lisa V. Goodrich2,
Jane E. Johnson3, Neil Segil1,4,* and Andrew K. Groves1,4,*
Temporal and spatial coordination of multiple cell fate decisions is essential for proper organogenesis. Here, we define gene
interactions that transform the neurogenic epithelium of the developing inner ear into specialized mechanosensory receptors. By
Cre-loxP fate mapping, we show that vestibular sensory hair cells derive from a previously neurogenic region of the inner ear. The
related bHLH genes Ngn1 (Neurog1) and Math1 (Atoh1) are required, respectively, for neural and sensory epithelial development in
this system. Our analysis of mouse mutants indicates that a mutual antagonism between Ngn1 and Math1 regulates the transition
from neurogenesis to sensory cell production during ear development. Furthermore, we provide evidence that the transition to
sensory cell production involves distinct autoregulatory behaviors of Ngn1 (negative) and Math1 (positive). We propose that Ngn1,
as well as promoting neurogenesis, maintains an uncommitted progenitor cell population through Notch-mediated lateral
inhibition, and Math1 irreversibly commits these progenitors to a hair-cell fate.
KEY WORDS: Proneural gene, bHLH, Hair cells, Inner ear, Otocyst, Neurogenesis
Development 134, 4405-4415 (2007) doi:10.1242/dev.009118
1Gonda Department of Cell and Molecular Biology, House Ear Institute, 2100 West
3rd Street, Los Angeles CA 90057, USA. 2Department of Neurobiology, Harvard
Medical School, 220 Longwood Avenue, Boston, MA 02115, USA. 3Center for Basic
Neuroscience, UT Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, TX 75390, USA.
4Department of Cell and Neurobiology, Keck School of Medicine, University of
Southern California, Los Angeles, CA 90033, USA.
*Authors for correspondence (e-mails: firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com)
Accepted 19 September 2007
MATERIALS AND METHODS
Targeted disruptions of Math1(Ben-Arie et al., 1997), Ngn1(Ma et al., 1998),
or Pofut1(Shi and Stanley, 2003) loci were maintained on a CD1 background.
Ngn1-GFP and Ngn1-CreER BAC transgenic mice were constructed with
RPCI-23-457E22 (http://bacpac.CHORI.org/), which contains a genomic
insert of 184 kb with 113 kb 5?and 71 kb 3?of the Ngn1coding sequence. The
Math1-GFP BAC transgenic was constructed with RPCI-23318G16, which
contains a genomic insert of 181 kb with 75 kb 5?and 104 kb 3?of the Math1
coding sequence. Homologous recombination in bacteria (Yang et al., 1997)
was used to replace endogenous coding sequences with coding sequence for
either nuclear-localized EGFP (Clontech) or CreERT2(Feil et al., 1997).
Details of Ngn1CreER BAC transgene construction (E.J.K. and L.V.G.,
unpublished) are available on request. Genotyping was accomplished by PCR
using the following oligos: Ngn1-GFP, 5?-CGAAGGCTACGTCCAGGAG -
C GCAC-3?and 5?-GCACGGGGCC GTCGCCGATGGGGGTGT-3?; Ngn1-
CreER, 5?-AGCCCATTCACTC CCTGAG-3? and 5?-ATCAACGTTTTCT -
TTTCGGA-3?; Math1-GFP, 5?-CTGACCCTGAAGTTCATCTGCACC-3?
and 5?-TGGCTGTTGTAGT TGTACTCCAGC-3?; Math1 mutants, 5?-GAA -
CCCAAAGACCTT TT GCAC-3?and 5?-CACGAGACTAGTGAGACGTG-
3?; Ngn1 mutants, 5?-AAGAGTGCCATGCCCGAAGG-3? and 5?-AAGG -
CCGACCTCCAA A CCTC-3?; Pofut1 mutants, 5?-GGGTCACCTTCAT -
GTACA AGTGAGTG-3?and 5?-ACCCACAGGCTGTGCAGTCTTTG-3?.
The Math1-GFP transgenic line carrying a 1.4 kb Math1 enhancer fragment
was genotyped as previously described (Chen et al., 2002; Lumpkin et al.,
2003). The Ngn1-CreER transgene was maintained in males on a Z/EG
reporter strain (Novak et al., 2000); double-transgenic embryos were obtained
by breeding these to Z/EG reporter females. Tamoxifen (Sigma T5648) in corn
oil was administered by gavage twice daily to alert, pregnant females (1.0 mg
per 40 g of body weight per administration).
Immunohistochemistry and in situ hybridization
Embryos were immersion-fixed (4% paraformaldehyde), cryoprotected in
30% sucrose in PBS, embedded in OCT compound (Tissue-Tek) and
cryosectioned. Immunohistochemistry was performed by a standard protocol
of blocking (5% donkey serum,0.1% Triton X-100 in PBS), incubations and
washings. Antibodies included: anti-myosin VIIa rabbit polyclonal (obtained
from Tama Hasson, UCSD, CA; 1:400), anti-GFP chicken polyclonal
(Chemicon, 1:100), anti-GFP rabbit polyclonal (Molecular Probes, 1:1000),
anti-islet1/2 mouse monoclonal (mAb4D5, Developmental Studies
Hybridoma Bank, straight supernatant) and anti-human/mouse active caspase
3 (R&D Systems, 1:500). Secondary antibodies (Jackson ImmunoResearch)
Development 134 (24)
Fig. 1. Neurogenesis and hair cell production coincide in the otic epithelium. (A) Temporal-spatial relationships between neurogenesis (cyan)
and sensory epithelial differentiation (beige). Activity levels are schematized in color above the time-line. Ut, utricle; Sac, saccule. (B) E11.5 otocyst
(rotated from A) with NeuroD domain (cyan) and Math1 expression (beige hatching) highlighted. pUt, presumptive utricle; pSac, presumptive
saccule. (C) Part of the early inner ear labyrinth at E13.5, defined by the red box, shown on same scale as B. Orientation and color codes are as in B.
Math1 expression in the anterior and lateral cristae is shown in dark gray. (D) NeuroD (cyan) and Math1 (beige) epithelial expression domain areas
versus developmental stage. (E) Epithelial NeuroD+cell number versus developmental stage. (F) Alternating serial sections through the presumptive
(E11.5) and definitive (E14.5) utricle, hybridized for NeuroD or Math1. Arrow indicates early Math1 expression. (G-J) Math1-GFP reporter tissue
double-labeled with NeuroD antisense RNA (red) and anti-GFP antibody (green). In G, triple arrowheads and arrow indicate lateral and medial
stripes of Math1-GFP, respectively, as illustrated in B. In H and I, arrowheads and bracket indicate spatial overlap of the two markers. Arrowheads in
J indicate the border of Math1-GFP and NeuroD expression. Axes in F apply to F-J. Scale bars: 50 ?m.
were used at 1:200. In situ hybridization was performed by standard
methods (Stern, 1998). For combined in situ hybridization and GFP
immunohistochemistry (with anti-GFP rabbit polyclonal, Molecular Probes),
proteinase K digestion (5 ?g/ml in PBS) was reduced to 3 minutes.
Digoxygenin-labeled RNA probes for NeuroD (Lee et al., 1994), Math1
(Helms and Johnson, 1998), Ngn1(Ma et al., 1998) and Dll1(Beckers et al.,
1999) were prepared by standard methods. TUNEL reactions were performed
according to manufacturer’s instructions (Roche).
Quantitative analyses and three-dimensional reconstructions
Serial sections were photographed and imported into Photoshop CS2
(Adobe). Occurrence data were obtained by digitally marking all positive
cells identified in TIFF files of complete, consecutive 12 ?m serial sections
for a given structure and automated tallying (Image Processing Toolkit,
Reindeer Graphics). Data were tested for significance with multiple t-tests
(two-tailed; unequal variance). Domain areas and relative cell positions were
quantified with NIHimage/ImageJ. Space filling models were generated by
aligning serial sections with Autoaligner (Bitplane AG), tracing the regions
of interest, and importing stacks of tracings into Imaris (Bitplane AG).
Neurogenesis and hair cell production overlap
spatially and temporally in the developing utricle
We performed RNA in situ hybridization for NeuroD and Math1
to characterize any temporal and spatial overlap between
neurogenesis and hair cell production (Fig. 1A) (Fritzsch et al.,
2002). NeuroD (also known as Neurod1 – Mouse Genome
Informatics), a neural differentiation gene (Bertrand et al., 2002),
is expressed under the control of Ngn1 in the otic epithelium (Ma
et al., 1998) and marks cells that are committed to the neural
lineage. We also hybridized a NeuroD RNA probe to tissue from
a Math1-GFP transgenic reporter mouse (Lumpkin et al., 2003).
Math1 is the earliest known specific marker of hair cells
(Bermingham et al., 1999).
The number of NeuroD+cells within the epithelium increases
between E9 and E10.5 (Raft et al., 2004) (Fig. 1A). Between E11.5
and E12.5, NeuroD expression split into two distinct regions of
neurogenesis that would ultimately lie within the developing utricle
and saccule (Fig. 1B,C, cyan). Neurogenesis declined from E11.5
onward (Fig. 1D,E), but a few delaminating NeuroD+cells were still
present in the utricle as late as E17.5 (5±4 cells, n=3 ears; data not
shown). A comparison of NeuroD and Ngn1 expression in the otic
epithelium revealed no differences in their patterning (see Fig.
S1A,D,E,H in the supplementary material).
During the decline in neurogenesis, Math1 mRNA expression
begins and is maintained in all hair cells through to at least E17.5
(Shailam et al., 1999). At E11.5, two Math1+stripes appeared within
the NeuroD domain along its lateral and medial borders (Fig.
1B,F,G). Between E11.5 and E12.5, Math1-GFP+cells in these
stripes increased in number by 8- to 10-fold and formed the nascent
maculae of the utricle and saccule. Initially, Math1-GFP+and
NeuroD+cells intermingled (Fig. 1H,I), but later lay on either side
of a border that delineates the macula and its adjacent neurogenic
domain (Fig. 1J). Math1 expression associated with the cristae first
appeared as separate foci outside the NeuroD+domain at around E12
(data not shown). We found no temporal overlap of Math1 and
NeuroDexpression in the cochlea (data not shown), suggesting that
neurogenesis and hair cell generation do not coincide in the auditory
end-organ. Taken together, our data reveal that neurogenesis is
maintained through stages of hair cell production in the utricle and
saccule, but declines sharply as Math1 expression and hair cell
Maculae of the utricle and saccule derive from the
Ngn1-expressing domain of the otocyst
Our expression analysis raised the possibility that sensory maculae
of the utricle and saccule, but not the cristae or organ of Corti, derive
from the neurogenic region of the otocyst. To test this, we
permanently labeled cells of the neurogenic region using a
BAC transgenic mouse line (Ngn1-CreER) (E.J.K. and L.V.G.,
unpublished) that expresses a tamoxifen-inducible form of Cre
recombinase (CreER) under the control of Ngn1regulatory elements
(see Fig. S1B,F in the supplementary material). This allowed us to
identify cells transiently expressing Ngn1 and their progeny after
sensory epithelia have formed. As expected, when the Ngn-CreER
mouse was crossed with the Z/EG reporter line (Novak et al., 2000)
and tamoxifen administered, roughly 50% of VIIIth cranial ganglion
neurons were permanently labeled in double-transgenic embryos
(Fig. 2A; see Fig. S1I in the supplementary material). Importantly,
we also found Ngn1 derivatives to be present in sensory and non-
sensory inner ear epithelia of embryos that had been sacrificed after
neurogenesis was largely complete (Fig. 2B-G).
To follow the fate of Ngn1-expressing cells in the ear, we
administered tamoxifen twice daily from E8.5 until E13.5 to
pregnant females of Ngn1-CreER ?Z/EG matings. We analyzed 20
double-transgenic right ears from seven litters ranging in age from
E13.5-16.5 and identified over 5000 labeled epithelial cells. Sensory
epithelia were identified by the presence of myosin VIIa protein, and
the resulting distribution pattern of epithelial Ngn1 derivatives is
Ngn1 and Math1 cross-regulate in the ear
Fig. 2. Fate mapping identifies Ngn1 derivatives in the VIIIth
ganglion and ear epithelium. (A-F) Structures from E16.5 (A) or
E14.5 (B-F) Ngn1-CreER;Z/EG embryos, double-stained for transgenic
GFP (green, Ngn1 derivatives) and myosin VIIa (red, sensory hair cells).
ac, anterior crista; ger, greater epithelial ridge; lc, lateral crista; oC,
organ of Corti, pc, posterior crista; poC, presumptive organ of Corti;
sac. m., saccular macula; sp. g. spiral ganglion; ut. m. utricular macula;
ut. non-sens, utricular non-sensory; vest. g., vestibular ganglion. Arrows
in E and inset indicate Ngn1 derivatives in non-sensory tissue between
the lateral crista and utricular macula. (G) Summary of Ngn1 derivatives
in the ear. Gray areas represent sensory structures lacking Ngn1
derivatives. (H-K) Ngn1 derivative cell phenotypes (green) in sensory
maculae. Red label is myosin VIIa in H,I and phalloidin in J. Arrowhead
in I indicates a double-positive cell. In K, arrowheads indicate
supporting cells; asterisks indicate hair cells.
summarized in Fig. 2G. Supporting the hypothesis that maculae are
the only sensory epithelia to derive from neurogenic epithelium,
Ngn1 derivatives were present in the utricular and saccular maculae
of all specimens analyzed (Fig. 2B,C). For embryos sacrificed at
E14.5, tamoxifen administration from E8.5-13.5 yielded an average
of 157±25 Ngn1 derivatives per utricular macula (n=6 ears from two
litters). We found a lower occurrence of such cells in the saccular
macula (82±24; n=6 ears from two litters). By contrast, only one ear
out of the 20 analyzed had Ngn1 derivatives in the lateral crista
(eight labeled supporting cells), and no such cells were detected in
the other cristae in our cohort of specimens. No Ngn1 derivatives
were detected in the organ of Corti. We were able to classify macular
Ngn1 derivatives as differentiated myosin VIIa+hair cells (Fig. 2H),
undifferentiated myosin VIIa+epithelial cells migrating within the
apical-basal plane of the epithelium (Fig. 2I), or as myosin VIIa–
pseudostratified epithelial cells (Fig. 2J). By E16.5, many of these
myosin VIIa–Ngn1 derivatives exhibited morphological features of
supporting cells (Fig. 2K, arrowheads).
Regions of non-sensory epithelium flanking the maculae of
E13.5-16.5 ears also contain labeled cells (Fig. 2D,E), but we found
no Ngn1 derivatives in the semicircular canals. In the auditory
portion of the ear, Ngn1 derivatives were detected in 82% (14/17) of
the cochleae analyzed (E13-16.5), but showed extreme variability
in their numbers (93±146 cells, n=8 cochleae at E14.5). These cells
commonly occupied the greater epithelial ridge (GER), a non-
sensory region of the cochlea that is adjacent to the organ of Corti
(Fig. 2F). However, as described above, no Ngn1 derivatives were
detected in the organ of Corti itself.
Administration of tamoxifen only at placode/otocyst stages (E8.5
and E9.5) resulted in the same spatial distribution of Ngn1 derivatives
as described above. Together, our results indicate that the utricular
and saccular maculae, as well as some non-sensory epithelium
flanking these structures, derive from the neurogenic region of the
otocyst, and that Ngn1-expressing otocyst cells or their descendants
can differentiate as hair cells, supporting cells, or as structural
The Ngn1 domain contracts gradually and
stereotypically in the primordia of the utricle and
To understand how the sensory maculae and their surrounding tissue
arise from neurogenic tissue, we analyzed changes in Ngn1
expression over time using two different transgenic lines. A series
of Ngn1-CreER ?Z/EG litters received initial tamoxifen exposures
at progressively later developmental time points from E8.5 onwards;
once begun, tamoxifen administration was continued twice per day
until E13.5 and all litters were sacrificed on E14.5. By quantifying
GFP+cells in the utricle of these embryos, we confirmed that starting
tamoxifen administration at progressively later times leads to
diminishing numbers of labeled Ngn1 derivatives (Fig. 3C). From
these experiments, we mapped the distributions of Ngn1 derivatives
in the utricular macula and its flanking non-sensory tissue (Fig. 3E-
E?). The distribution of cells actively expressing Ngn1at E14.5 was
obtained from a different BAC transgenic line (Ngn1-GFP) that
reports directly on Ngn1 promoter activity (see Fig. S1C,G,J in the
Our results for the utricle are consistent with a stereotyped reduction
in the area of Ngn1 expression over time. At E14.5, the active
neurogenic domain of the utricle, defined by expression of the Ngn1-
GFP reporter, lay medial to and centered along the anteroposterior axis
of the macula (Fig. 3A,B). When tamoxifen was administered to Ngn1-
CreER;Z/EG litters from E8.5-13.5 (Fig. 3E), Ngn1 derivatives were
present throughout the neurogenic domain (white region), the macular
sensory epithelium (gray region, defined by myosin VIIa expression),
lateral non-sensory tissue (between the utriclar macula and lateral
crista, yellow region), and posterior non-sensory tissue (between the
utricular and saccular maculae, yellow region, bottom). When
tamoxifen was administered from E10.5 or E11.5 to E13.5, Ngn1
derivatives were present at all these sites, except for posterior non-
sensory tissue (between the maculae, Fig. 3E?). Finally, when
tamoxifen was administered from E12.5-13.5, Ngn1 derivatives were
present only within the neurogenic domain and a portion of the macular
epithelium nearest its border with the neurogenic domain (Fig. 3E?).
Contraction of the Ngn1 expression domain is therefore directional,
occurring largely from lateral to medial in the utricle. We observed
similar Ngn1 expression dynamics in the saccule (see Fig. S2 in the
supplementary material), although contraction occurred largely along
the anteroposterior axis of this structure, rather than along the medial-
lateral axis as in the utricle. Importantly, all tamoxifen start times tested
(ranging from E8.5-12.5) resulted in a cohort of macular Ngn1
derivatives comprising both hair cells and pseudostratified epithelial
cells. These data, together with results described in the previous
section, indicate that macular sensory cells can derive from cells that
express Ngn1at any time between E9 and E14.
Math1 suppresses neurogenesis in the developing
utricle and saccule
Our results indicate that the domain of Ngn1+precursor cells is
gradually transformed from a purely neurogenic region into sensory
epithelia of the utricular and saccular maculae. Since functional
antagonism between related bHLH transcription factors has been
described in other systems (Fode et al., 2000; Gowan et al., 2001;
Akagi et al., 2004), we tested whether Math1 (which is required for
sensory epithelial differentiation) (Bermingham et al., 1999)
suppresses neurogenesis by inhibiting Ngn1 transcription in otic
epithelial cells. We found that Math1 function is required for the
normal contraction of epithelial Ngn1 expression characterized in
the previous section (Fig. 4A,B; data not shown). We quantified
expression of the Ngn1-GFP reporter and NeuroD in Math1-null
homozygote embryos and observed large (>6?) increases over wild
type in the numbers of neural precursors within the developing
utricle and saccule; a less severe form of this phenotype was found
in Math1 heterozygotes (Table 1). Excess neural precursors were
seen to delaminate and migrate away from the mutant epithelium to
form an VIIIth cranial ganglion that was larger than wild type (see
Fig. S3B asterisk, E-H, in the supplementary material). Ectopic
neurogenesis in Math1–/–epithelia localized specifically to parts of
the utricle and saccule that normally differentiate as sensory
maculae, and was not detected in the cristae, cochlea, or any non-
sensory epithelia (Fig. 4D,F; see Fig. S3A-D in the supplementary
material; data not shown); in Math1heterozygotes, it occurred only
at the interface of neurogenic and sensory regions (Fig. 4E, bracket).
In Math1–/–epithelia, marked excess neurogenesis at E14.5 and
E15.5 followed a partial decline in neurogenic activity through
E13.5 (Fig. 4N). This initial declining trend in neurogenic activity
in mutants, which is similar to that of wild type, suggests that factors
in addition to Math1 contribute to early neurogenic suppression.
Reduced Ngn1 gene dose causes excess and
ectopic Math1 expression in the developing
utricle and saccule
Ngn1loss-of-function causes a failure of neural precursor generation
in the otic epithelium and absence of the VIIIth cranial ganglion (Ma
et al., 1998; Ma et al., 2000). If antagonism between Math1 and
Development 134 (24)
Ngn1 during ear development is reciprocal, then Ngn1 loss-of-
function should result in ectopic hair cells. Our analysis of sensory
marker expression in the Ngn1–/–utricle confirmed this prediction.
As indicated by both Math1 and myosin VIIa expression, the
Ngn1–/–utricular macula at E13.5 and E14.5 was expanded medially
into the region that is normally neurogenic (Fig. 4C,F,H,K,M). At
E13.5, the total area of Math1 expression in the Ngn1–/–utricle
exceeded that of wild type by 39% (P<0.002, n=3 epithelia per
genotype), and there were more Math1+cells in the Ngn1–/–utricle
than in wild type at E13.5 and E14.5 (Table 1). Growth
abnormalities of the Ngn1–/–mutant ear (Matei et al., 2005; Ma et
al., 2000) confounded our analysis of other structures. The saccule
was profoundly hypoplastic (see Fig. S4A in the supplementary
material), and we correlated this to a period of intense, region-
specific apoptosis in the otic epithelium between E11.5 and E12.5
(see Fig. S4B,C in the supplementary material; data not shown).
Ngn1 and Math1 cross-regulate in the ear
Fig. 3. Ngn1 expression decreases over time in the
prospective utricle. (A) E14.5 utricular macula
schematized in the same orientation as the scatterplots
in B and E-E?. A cross-section of the macula along the
dotted line is represented at the bottom. The macula
(region of myosin VIIa staining) is in gray. The active
neurogenic region (Ng, region of Ngn1-GFP staining) is
white. ut m-lc, non-sensory tissue between the utricular
macula and lateral crista; ut m-sac m, non-sensory tissue
between the utricular macula and saccular macula.
(B) Distribution of GFP+cells (blue crosses, cyan in
image) from three E14.5 Ngn1-GFP BAC transgenic
utricles, plotted on a normalized scale, defines the
region of active neurogenesis. Gray area represents an
averaged macular area (myosin VIIa+); the yellow area is
non-sensory epithelium between the utricular macula
and lateral crista. White arrow marks the lateral extent
of the macula. (C) Number of Ngn1 derivatives in the
Ngn1-CreER;Z/EG utricle versus time of first tamoxifen
feeding for embryos sacrificed at E14.5. Each point is
based on four or more ears from two or more litters.
(D) Sections through utricular maculae, representing the
change in the spatial distribution of Ngn1 derivatives
(green) with different tamoxifen regimens. Downturned
brackets indicate overlap between Ngn1 derivatives and
myosin VIIa+hair cells. Upturned brackets indicate the
region of active neurogenesis. White arrows indicate the
lateral extent of the macula. Asterisk shows an Ngn1
derivative in non-sensory tissue between the utricular
macula and lateral crista. (E-E? ?) Spatial distributions of
Ngn1 derivatives from E14.5 utricles exposed to
different tamoxifen administration regimens, as
indicated at the top of each plot. (E) n=4 utricles; (E?)
n=6 utricles; (E?) n=14 utricles. Ngn1 derivative cell
types and regions of the plot are coded as shown in E?.
Ngn1–/–cristae were also smaller than their wild-type counterparts,
which was evident from our quantification of Math1+cells in the
Ngn1-null mutant lateral crista (Table 1).
The inner ear of Ngn1heterozygotes was not grossly dysmorphic
and therefore provided a context for analyzing cell fate changes in
response to reduced Ngn1 levels. We quantified Math1+cells in the
utricle, saccule and lateral crista of Ngn1 heterozygote and wild-type
littermates. In the Ngn1+/–utricle and saccule, numbers of Math1+
cells were increased by 16-29% compared with wild type (Table 1).
This was due to an expansion in the area of Math1+macular domains
in heterozygotes (Fig. 4K,L) and an increased density of Math1+
cells within heterozygote maculae compared with wild type (Fig.
Development 134 (24)
Table 1. Occurrence of neural and sensory precursor cells in wild-type and mutant inner ear epithelia
89±16 [0.004 (5)]
54±16 [0.04 (6)]
451±35 [0.0004 (7)]
623±55 [0.001 (6)]
377±37 [0.0005 (6)]
50±16 [1.0 (11)]
33±15 [1.0 (7)]
361±35 [1.0 (7)]
484±17 [1.0 (5)]
503±31 [1.0 (6)]
76±12 [0.0003 (11)] 360±35 [0.003 (3)]
63±18 [0.04 (4)]
379±31 [0.0006 (4)]
224±33 [0.006 (3)]
415±27 [0.02 (4)]
561±23 [0.0001 (6)]
353±21 [0.00002 (4)] myosin VIIa
25±6 [0.02 (3)]
6.7±2 [0.002 (6)]
440±37 [0.001 (7)]
718±38 [0.001 (7)]
387±102 [0.03 (4)]
1.3±0.8 [1.0 (6)]
2.3±1.9 [1.0 (7)]
354±39 [1.0 (7)]
621±35 [1.0 (5)]
584±23 [1.0 (4)]
13±4 [0.001 (5)]
6.8±0.5 [0.0007 (4)]
433±40 [0.01 (3)]
190±54 [0.04 (3)]
144±43 [0.03 (3)]
72±28 [0.0001 (4)]
192±36 [<0.00001 (6)]
71±30 [<0.00001 (4)] myosin VIIa
Values (mean±s.d.) for the occurrence of Ngn-GFP+, NeuroD+, Math1+and myosin VIIa+cells within inner ear epithelia of wild-type and mutant embryos, with [P-value
(number of ears sampled)]. P-values refer to two-tailed t-tests comparing mutant and wild type. Samples for each category were drawn from a minimum of three litters.
n.d., Not determined.
E14.5 340±31 [0.004 (6)] 448±55 [0.8 (8)] 454±51 [1.0 (5)] n.d. 0
Fig. 4. Complementary
phenotypes of Math1 and
Ngn1 mutants. (A,B) Ectopic
Ngn1 expression in the E13.5
wild-type and Math1–/–
utricle. Axes apply to all
images. (C) Ectopic Math1
expression in the E13.5 wild-
type and Ngn1–/–utricle.
(D-M) Expression of Ngn1-
GFP transgene (cyan), myosin
VIIa protein (red) and Math1
mRNA in wild-type, Math1
and Ngn1 mutant utricles at
E14.5. Brackets in E,G
indicate abnormal overlap of
neural precursors and hair
cells in heterozygotes.
Arrowheads in K-M indicate
macular expansion in Ngn1
mutants. (N) NeuroD+
epithelial cell numbers in
utricle and saccule of
littermates over time.
Asterisks denote significance
at P<0.05. Points represent
the mean and standard
deviation of three ears from
separate litters. (O) Utricular
maculae of wild-type and
Ngn1+/–littermates at E14.5,
hybridized identically for
Math1. Scale bars: 50 ?m.
4O). Unlike the maculae, the Ngn1+/–lateral crista – a structure that
does not express Ngn1 during normal development – showed no
increase in Math1+cells compared with wild type (Table 1). These
results suggest that the numbers of Math1+cells are increased in
response to Ngn1 hemizygosity specifically at sites where the two
genes are co-expressed (utricle and saccule).
Although, as described above, myosin VIIa expression domains
are expanded in Ngn1mutants (Fig. 4F-H), we found fewer myosin
VIIa+cells in the Ngn1–/–utricle and Ngn1+/–utricle and saccule than
in wild type (Table 1). This was owing to a lower density of myosin
VIIa+cells in the mutants as compared with wild type and, in
addition,myosin VIIa+hair cell size and shape were abnormal in the
mutants (see Fig. S4D-F in the supplementary material). Neither
TUNEL, nor anti-caspase 3 immunohistochemistry, at E14.5
provided evidence that these abnormalities were due to apoptosis
(data not shown). Since the onset of myosin VIIa expression
normally follows Math1 expression, and all of the mutant sites under
consideration have more Math1+cells than wild type, a considerable
number of Math1+macular cells in Ngn1 mutants (greater than 35%)
must fail to express myosin VIIa+. Taken together, our results
indicate that at sites of Ngn1 and Math1 co-expression (utricle and
saccule), reduced Ngn1gene dose causes excess numbers of Math1+
cells to form, but many of these cells do not properly differentiate as
Ngn1 negatively regulates its own expression and
is inhibited by Notch signaling
Ngn1is thought to function analogously to the Drosophila proneural
genes (Ma et al., 1996; Ma et al., 1998; Cornell and Eisen, 2002).
Consistent with a proneural function for Ngn1, we found that Ngn1-
GFP signal varies in intensity between neighboring cells, and is
strongest in delaminating cells (Fig. 5A). We therefore tested whether
Ngn1negatively regulates its own transcription in the otic epithelium
by comparing expression patterns of the Ngn1-GFP BAC transgene
in Ngn1-null homozygote and wild-type littermates prior to the
appearance of ectopic Math1 expression. At E12.5, Ngn1-GFP is
normally expressed in a speckled pattern by a subset of cells in the
neurogenic region (Fig. 5B). By contrast, in Ngn1–/–embryos, the
GFP signal was present in all cells of the region, with little variability
in signal strength between cells (Fig. 5D). Loss of the speckled
expression pattern for the Ngn1-GFP transgene did not occur on a
Math1–/–background (Fig. 5C), indicating that this phenotype is
specific to the loss of Ngn1. We also found excess Ngn1-GFP+and
NeuroD+epithelial cells in the Ngn1+/–utricle and saccule compared
with wild type (Table 1). In Ngn1–/–ears, expression of the Ngn1-
GFP transgene was completely abolished by E14.5, presumably
owing to inhibition by ectopic Math1 expression (Fig. 4H,M).
To investigate potential interactions of Ngn1 with Notch
signaling, we assayed expression of the Notch ligand Dll1 in the
Ngn1-null homozygote. We found reduced Dll1 expression in the
primitive utricle and saccule of mutants as compared with wild
type (Fig. 5E,F) (see also Ma et al., 1998). To test whether Notch
activity suppresses Ngn1 transcription within the otic epithelium,
we analyzed Ngn1 expression in embryos lacking Pofut1. This
gene encodes the protein O-fucosyltransferase 1, which
glycosylates epidermal growth factor-like repeats within the
extracellular domain of the Notch receptor (Lei et al., 2003;
Okajima et al., 2003; Okajima et al., 2005). Pofut1 loss-of-
function abolishes ligand-induced Notch signaling and causes
phenotypes similar to those of embryos lacking downstream
effectors of all Notch receptors, including mid-embryonic
lethality (Shi and Stanley, 2003). We therefore assayed Ngn1
expression in early Pofut1 embryos (E9-9.5), when the otic
placode invaginates to first form an otocyst. At these stages, Ngn1
mRNA signals were increased in Pofut1–/–embryos as compared
with wild-type littermates in the otic epithelium, midbrain,
trigeminal placode, epibranchial placodes and spinal cord (Fig.
5G,H), indicating that Ngn1 transcription in all these embryonic
regions is negatively regulated by canonical Notch signaling.
Thus, the negative autoregulation of Ngn1 in the otic epithelium
might be controlled by Notch-mediated lateral inhibition.
Positive autoregulation of Math1 in the inner ear
Math1 positively autoregulates its transcription at particular sites
in the embryo (Helms et al., 2000). To determine whether Math1
is subject to positive autoregulation during ear development,
transgenic reporters of Math1 promoter activity were compared
across wild-type and Math1–/–backgrounds. A BAC that
expresses GFP under the control of Math1 regulatory elements
mimics patterns of Math1 mRNA expression in the developing ear
(Fig. 6A), hindbrain region (Fig. 6A, inset), spinal cord, and other
sites in the embryo (J.E.J., unpublished). By contrast, we were
unable to detect GFP signal in the ears of Math1–/–::Math1-GFP
BAC embryos at stages E13.5 through E15.5 (Fig. 6B; data not
shown), although GFP expression was clearly present at other
sites of expression, such as the hindbrain (Fig. 6B, inset). A
second transgenic line, which carries a 1.4 kb Math1 enhancer
with an E-box site that is essential for Math1 binding and
autoregulation in other tissues (Helms et al., 2000), also mimics
Math1 expression in the developing wild-type ear (Chen et al.,
2002; Lumpkin et al., 2003). As with the Math1-GFP BAC, we
found no GFP reporter signal in the sensory epithelia of these
Math1–/–::Math1-GFP embryos at stages E13.5 through E15.5
Ngn1 and Math1 cross-regulate in the ear
Fig. 5. Ngn1 negatively autoregulates and
interacts with the Notch pathway. (A-D) Ngn1-GFP
BAC transgene expression in a wild-type E10 otocyst
(A), wild-type E12.5 utricle (B), Math1–/–E14.5 utricle
(C) and Ngn1–/–E12.5 utricle (D). Arrowheads in A
indicate delaminating cells with stronger GFP signal
than their neighbors. (E,F) Dll1 expression in wild-type
and Ngn1–/–otic epithelia at E11.5. pUt, presumptive
utricle; pSac, presumptive saccule. (G,H) Ngn1 mRNA
expression in wild-type and Pofut–/–embryos at E9.
Insets show the invaginating otic epithelium.
Arrowheads and arrows (insets) indicate Ngn1 mRNA
signal in the otic epithelium, outlined with dotted white
line. o, otic epithelium; mb, midbrain; t, trigeminal
placode; ep, epibranchial placode; sp, spinal cord.
(Fig. 6C,D). The complete lack of reporter expression in the
cristae of both Math1–/–::Math1-GFP reporter lines indicates that
the phenotype is not due solely to inhibition by ectopic expression
The neurogenic region of the otocyst gives rise to
sensory epithelia of the utricle and saccule
It has been unclear how neurogenic tissue of the otocyst relates to
sensory epithelia of the inner ear. Gene expression studies in both
chicken and mouse suggest that neurogenesis occupies only part of
a larger sensory-competent domain of the otocyst (Morsli et al.,
1998; Adam et al., 1998; Cole et al., 2000; Fekete and Wu, 2002),
and a recent lineage study in the chicken shows that vestibular and
spiral (auditory) neurons of the VIIIth ganglion can be clonally
related to utricular epithelial cells (both macular and non-sensory)
(Satoh and Fekete, 2005). By fate mapping in mouse, we show that
Ngn1+otic epithelial cells can differentiate as vestibular or spiral
ganglion neurons, hair or supporting cells of the utricular and
saccular maculae, or non-sensory epithelial cells surrounding the
maculae. Although the question remains open as to whether, in
mouse, these cell types descend clonally from a common progenitor,
our work unambiguously traces the origin of specific sensory
(macular) and non-sensory cells to the neurogenic domain of the
Our fate mapping suggests that the other functional class of
vestibular sensory epithelia, the cristae, and their associated
semicircular canals do not derive from the Ngn1+domain of the
otocyst. This confirms previous gene expression studies tracing the
origin of cristae to a Bmp4+region outside of, and adjacent to, the
neurogenic domain (Morsli et al., 1998; Raft et al., 2004) (Fig. 7A?).
The very rare occurrence (a few cells in one of 20 ears) of Ngn1
derivatives in the lateral crista suggests that mixing of cells between
the neurogenic and Bmp4 domains occurs infrequently. Whether this
lack of mixing is due to differential affinity between the two regions,
or whether neurogenesis is actively suppressed within the Bmp4
domain, is not clear. In support of the latter hypothesis, Tbx1, a T-
box gene that inhibits Ngn1 and maintains Bmp4 expression in the
otocyst epithelium, is expressed continuously and from very early
stages in the presumptive and definitive cristae (Arnold et al., 2006;
Raft et al., 2004; Vitelli et al., 2003).
Our mapping of Ngn1-GFP and NeuroD expression domains
revealed no evidence of active neurogenesis in the definitive
cochlea. However, we did find Ngn1 derivatives in a non-sensory
region of the cochlea (the GER) in the majority of ears analyzed.
Based on its location in the ear, the GER might derive from the most
posteroventral-medial edge of the otocyst neurogenic region.
Interestingly, the GER lies immediately adjacent to the organ of
Corti, within which we found no Ngn1 derivatives. This result, the
common occurrence of Ngn1 derivatives in non-sensory tissue
between the utricula macula and the anterior/lateral cristae (but not
in the cristae) (Fig. 2E,G), and the initiation of macular Math1
expression as stripes just within opposite borders of the neurogenic
domain, support the hypothesis that sensory epithelia are induced at
or near compartment boundaries in the otocyst (Fekete, 1996;
Brigande et al., 2000).
Cross-inhibition between Math1 and Ngn1
segregates a progenitor field of dual competence
into distinct neurogenic and sensory cell
We show that neurogenesis and hair cell production, long considered
strictly sequential, actually overlap in the developing utricle and
saccule for several days of gestation. During this period, neural
precursors and nascent hair cells initially intermingle and later sort
out across well-defined borders. Functionally, we show that Math1
and Ngn1 mutants have complementary inner ear phenotypes,
supporting the hypothesis that mutual antagonism between these
genes coordinates neurogenesis and hair cell production (Matei et
al., 2005). Loss of Math1, which is normally expressed in all sensory
regions of the ear, leads to excess and ectopic neurogenesis only in
sensory regions with a history of Ngn1 expression (utricular and
saccular maculae). This effect is gene dose-sensitive, as Math1
heterozygotes exhibit a neurogenic phenotype intermediate to those
of the Math1-null homozygote and wild type. Conversely, Ngn1
hemizygosity causes excess and ectopic Math1 expression
specifically in the utricle and saccule, and although Ngn1-null
homozygosity causes growth abnormalities of the ear, the Ngn1–/–
utricle still shows a phenotype of excess and ectopic Math1
expression. These effects are seen only at sites in the developing ear
where Ngn1 and Math1 are co-expressed, and we propose that they
result from a disruption of close-range cross-inhibition. Cross-
inhibition might influence multiple steps in the process,whereby an
Ngn1+progenitor field of dual competence (neural and sensory
epithelial) is gradually restricted to producing only sensory epithelial
cells. These include: (1) Math1 domain establishment within
opposite borders of the Ngn1+region (Fig. 7A?); (2) Math1 domain
expansion and decline in Ngn1 expression (Fig. 7A?,A?); and (3)
compartmentalization of the region into a pair of adjacent Math1
(sensory) and Ngn1(neurogenic) domains (Fig. 7A?). The potential
basis for the competitive advantage of Math1 over Ngn1 in this
system is discussed below.
Ngn1, but not Math1, functions as a proneural
gene during mouse ear development
Criteria for proneural function include early, broad expression of
transcript in all cells of a germinal epithelium and subsequent
refinement of transcription to a subset of cells by lateral inhibition
(Jan and Jan, 1993; Lewis, 1996). We find no evidence of these
Development 134 (24)
Fig. 6. Positive autoregulation of Math1 in the otic epithelium.
(A,B) Math1-GFP BAC transgene expression in wild-type and Math1–/–
ears and hindbrain regions (insets). (C,D) 1.4 kb Math1-GFP transgene
expression in wild-type and Math1–/–ears and hindbrain regions. lc,
lateral crista; ut, utricle; sac, saccule; hb, hindbrain. Scale bars: 100 ?m.
features in our studies of Math1 expression in the vestibular system
of the mouse. Of the two genes relevant to this study, it is Ngn1 and
not Math1 that initially marks the prospective maculae and exhibits
the variegated expression among neighboring cells that is
characteristic of proneural genes (Fig. 5A,B). Furthermore, using
two different transgenic reporter lines, we show that Math1 is
required for detectable levels of Math1 reporter expression in the
otic epithelium, suggesting that Math1promoter activity is amplified
and maintained by positive autoregulation. One possible
consequence of this is a rapid and irreversible commitment of
progenitors to the hair-cell fate once Math1 transcription surpasses
a threshold for positive autoregulation. Our results thus support the
view that Math1 functions as a hair-cell commitment factor rather
than a proneural (or ‘prosensory’) gene (Chen et al., 2002) (for a
review, see Kelley, 2006). Interestingly, in zebrafish, which has two
atoh1 genes, differences in the timing and autoregulation of
Math1/atoh1 genes from that described here lead to the opposite
conclusion (Millimaki et al., 2007). For example, zebrafish atoh1a
and 1b are required for hair cell generation, but their expression
precedes that of ngn1 (Andermann et al., 2002) and marks the
prospective maculae from very early stages. Gene duplication and
evolutionary pressure on the regulatory genome might therefore
dictate the precise functions of Math1/atoh1during ear development
in different species.
Our experiments reveal a profile of Ngn1 autoregulation very
different from that of Math1. We demonstrate that Ngn1 is required
to limit its own transcription within the otic epithelium. We also
extend a previous observation that proper otic expression of the
Notch ligand Dll1is dependent on Ngn1(Ma et al., 1998) and show
a pattern of increased Ngn1 expression in the early otic epithelium
of Pofut1–/–embryos, which are deficient in canonical Notch
signaling (Shi and Stanley, 2003). These results and the expression
of Ngn1 in neural and sensory progenitors from very early stages
fulfill several criteria for proneural function. Likely consequences
of the proneural activity of Ngn1 are control over the pace of
neurogenesis during otocyst stages and preservation of an
uncommitted progenitor cell population for sensory development.
These functions are consistent with recently reported effects of
conditional Dll1 loss-of-function in the developing ear, which
include an enlarged ganglion rudiment and specific hypoplasia of
the utricle and saccule (Brooker et al., 2006), and with blockade of
Notch signaling in the chicken, which causes excess neurogenesis
at the expense of sensory epithelial precursors (Daudet et al., 2007).
Differences in bHLH gene autoregulation and cell
behavior may direct the transition towards
sensory epithelial formation
Given our evidence for a mutual antagonism between Ngn1 and
Math1, how does Math1 exert the stronger inhibitory activity so that
sensory epithelia replace an active neurogenic region? Our model
states that Ngn1promotes a neural fate cell-autonomously and keeps
its own expression low or off in neighboring cells through Notch-
mediated lateral inhibition (Fig. 7B,C). Cells expressing high levels
of Ngn1 delaminate from the epithelium as neural precursors. Cells
remaining within the neurogenic epithelium constitute a dynamic mix
of committed neural precursors and uncommitted progenitors. The
Ngn1 and Math1 cross-regulate in the ear
Fig. 7. A model of the transition from
neurogenesis to sensory hair cell
formation. (A-A? ?) Tissue-level changes in
Ngn1 expression (cyan), Math1 expression
(beige hatching), and regions where Ngn1
expression has been extinguished (dark
blue/gray) from E10.5-14.5. Light gray stripe
at E11.5 represents Bmp4 expression, which
marks the prospective anterior and lateral
cristae. pUt, presumptive utricular macula;
pSac, presumptive saccular macula; ut m,
utricular macula; sac m, saccular macula; ac,
anterior crista; lc, lateral crista.
(B-B? ?) Changes in gene expression and
behavior (delamination) on a cellular scale
and over short periods (denoted by arrows) in
the neurogenic region of the otocyst (B),
presumptive maculae (B?) and definitive
maculae (B?). Shades of blue represent
various intensities of Ngn1 expression (see
key). Beige represents Math1+cells. White
represents cells expressing neither bHLH gene
(sensory-restricted progenitors) that can
differentiate as either hair or supporting cells.
(C,C? ?) Genetic interactions (black lines), gene
functions (gray lines) and cell fate
transformations (red lines) before (C) and
after (C?) the onset of Math1 expression.
Dll1, delta-like 1; N, Notch receptor. Solid
gray and black lines indicate cell-autonomous
interactions or functions. Dotted gray and
black lines indicate non-cell-autonomous
interactions or functions. Solid and dotted
lines between Ngn1 and Math1 indicate that
either, or both, mechanisms might mediate
latter group may adopt a neural fate in subsequent rounds of
delamination or may remain uncommitted for several days, after
which they adopt hair or supporting cell fates in response to Math1
induction within the region (Fig. 7B?,B?,C?). This is supported by our
fate mapping results, as Ngn1 derivatives can have any of these
identities. Once Math1 transcription exceeds a particular threshold,
positive autoregulation irreversibly commits progenitors to a hair cell
fate, and committed hair cells may then induce the supporting cell
phenotype through intercellular signaling (Woods et al., 2004). Since
strongly Ngn1+cells continuously delaminate from the epithelium,
Math1-expressing cells are left to interact with epithelial progenitors
expressing lower levels of Ngn1. These features might bias the mutual
antagonism between Ngn1 and Math1, thereby promoting sensory
epithelial differentiation at the expense of continued neurogenesis.
We have implicated cross-regulation between bHLH genes and
differential autoregulation as mechanisms for converting a
neurogenic epithelium into specialized mechanosensory receptors.
A novel aspect of this work – and one that is potentially relevant to
other systems – is the dynamic nature of the patterning processes
described. We show that progressive regionalization of bHLH genes
through cross-inhibition can result in a sequential and overlapping
production of distinct cell types, and that differential autoregulation
might provide the driving force for such a transition.
Many questions remain unanswered. For example, does cross-
inhibition between Ngn1 and Math1 occur within a single cell,
through intercellular signaling, or by a combination of these two
mechanisms? Cell-autonomous cross-inhibition might convert a
weakly Ngn1+cell directly into a Math1+nascent hair cell.
Alternatively, if the antagonism occurs through intercellular
signaling, Ngn1+cells might pass through a ‘sensory-restricted
progenitor’ state before committing to the hair-cell fate (Fig. 7C?).
We find the latter alternative attractive given that embryonic
maculae contain many Ngn1 derivatives with a pseudostratified
epithelial (non-hair-cell) phenotype. Molecular and cellular
mechanisms underlying the apparent compartmentalization of
sensory and neurogenic regions also warrant scrutiny, as there is
abundant evidence that Notch-mediated intercellular signaling
occurs at nascent boundaries during development (Irvine, 1999). In
summary, our results form a basis for understanding how progenitors
are allocated to various cell fates during inner ear development.
We thank Huda Zoghbi and Pamela Stanley for providing Math1 and Pofut1
mutant mice; Jackie Lee, Qiufu Ma and Johannes Becker for in situ probes; and
Juan Llamas, Welly Makmura and Sheri Juntilla for excellent colony
maintenance. This work was supported by grants from the Mathers Charitable
Foundation, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and the Medical Foundation
(L.V.G.), and by NIH grants F32 DC007247 (S.R.), F31 DC007775 (E.J.K.),
HD037932 and NS048887 (J.E.J.) and DC006185 (A.K.G. and N.S.).
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Ngn1 and Math1 cross-regulate in the ear
Fig. S1. Ngn1-CreER and Ngn1-GFP BAC transgenic lines mimic neurogenic gene
expression. (A-H) Comparison of Cre mRNA (in Ngn1-CreER embryos), GFP protein (in
Ngn1-GFP embryos) and endogenous Ngn1 and NeuroD mRNA expression at otocyst and
labyrinth stages. Arrows indicate the lateral (left) and medial (right) extent of otocyst
domains. Brackets highlight the later utricular domains. (I) GFP reports on Ngn1-CreER-
mediated recombination (Ngn1-CreER;Z/EG double-transgenic embryos) in VIIIth
ganglion rudiment neurons (green), double labeled with an antibody against islet 1 protein
(red). GFP is distributed throughout the VIIIth ganglion rudiment. VIIth (facial) and VIIIth
ganglion rudiments are distinguished by a dotted line. (J) GFP reports directly on Ngn1
promoter activity in the VIIIth ganglion rudiment of Ngn1-GFP BAC transgenic embryos,
double labeled with an antibody against islet 1 protein (red). GFP signal is absent from the
most mature ‘core’ regions of the ganglion; these neurons have downregulated Ngn1
Fig. S2. Reduction of Ngn1 promoter activity in the saccular rudiment over time. The bar
chart compares spatial distributions of all saccular Ngn1-derivatives from two groups of
embryos with different tamoxifen administration start times. Once begun, tamoxifen was
administered twice daily to all litters until E13.5 and all embryos were sacrificed at E14.5.
The saccule is binned into three sectors along its anteroposterior axis. Distributions are
based on 327 labeled cells from four ears for the E8.5 start group and 87 labeled cells from
ten ears for the E12.5 start group. Shown at the bottom are representative sections for each
of the three saccular regions from an embryo with an E8.5 tamoxifen start.
Fig. S3. Excess neurogenesis in the Math1<b>−</b>/<b>− embryonic ear. Sections
highlighting the ear epithelium (A-D) and VIIIth ganglion (E-H) at various levels,
hybridized with a NeuroD RNA probe. Arrow in A indicates the normal NeuroD signal at
E15.5. Asterisk in B highlights excessive delamination in the mutant. White dots in E and
F outline the most mature part of the vestibular ganglion, which no longer expresses
NeuroD at the stage shown. Epithelia are outlined in white. lc, lateral crista; mu, macula of
the utricle; sacc, saccule; coch, cochlea; ivg, inferior vestibular ganglion; sg, spiral
ganglion. Scale bar: 100 µm in A-D; 50 µm in E,F.
Fig. S4. Sensory epithelial phenotypes in Ngn1 mutant embryos. (A) Wild-type and
Ngn1−/− saccule (inset) at E14.5, hybridized with an RNA probe for Math1 and shown to
scale. (B,C) Sections through the E12.5 saccular rudiment of wild-type (B) and Ngn1−/−
(C) littermates, reacted for TUNEL. Arrowheads in B highlight the normal level of
TUNEL in this part of the wild-type ear. (D-F) Myosin VIIa immunohistochemistry
reveals differences in density and shape of embryonic hair cells in the utricular maculae of
wild-type (D), Ngn1+/− (E) and Ngn1−/− (F) littermates at E14.5.