The bundle of stereocilia on inner ear hair cells responds to subnanometer deflections produced by sound or head movement. Stereocilia are interconnected by a variety of links and also carry an electron-dense surface coat. The coat may contribute to stereocilia adhesion or protect from stereocilia fusion, but its molecular identity remains unknown. From a database of hair-cell-enriched translated proteins, we identify Polycystic Kidney and Hepatic Disease 1-Like 1 (PKHD1L1), a large, mostly extracellular protein of 4249 amino acids with a single transmembrane domain. Using serial immunogold scanning electron microscopy, we show that PKHD1L1 is expressed at the tips of stereocilia, especially in the high-frequency regions of the cochlea. PKHD1L1-deficient mice lack the surface coat at the upper but not lower regions of stereocilia, and they develop progressive hearing loss. We conclude that PKHD1L1 is a component of the surface coat and is required for normal hearing in mice.
Hereditary hearing loss often results from mutation of genes expressed by cochlear hair cells. Gene addition using AAV vectors has shown some efficacy in mouse models, but clinical application requires two additional advances. First, new AAV capsids must mediate efficient transgene expression in both inner and outer hair cells of the cochlea. Second, to have the best chance of clinical translation, these new vectors must also transduce hair cells in non-human primates. Here, we show that an AAV9 capsid variant, PHP.B, produces efficient transgene expression of a GFP reporter in both inner and outer hair cells of neonatal mice. We show also that AAV9-PHP.B mediates almost complete transduction of inner and outer HCs in a non-human primate. In a mouse model of Usher syndrome type 3A deafness (gene CLRN1), we use AAV9-PHP.B encoding to partially rescue hearing. Thus, we have identified a vector with promise for clinical treatment of hereditary hearing disorders, and we demonstrate, for the first time, viral transduction of the inner ear of a primate with an AAV vector.
Because there are currently no biological treatments for hearing loss, we sought to advance gene therapy approaches to treat genetic deafness. We focused on Usher syndrome, a devastating genetic disorder that causes blindness, balance disorders and profound deafness, and studied a knock-in mouse model, Ush1c c.216G>A, for Usher syndrome type IC (USH1C). As restoration of complex auditory and balance function is likely to require gene delivery systems that target auditory and vestibular sensory cells with high efficiency, we delivered wild-type Ush1c into the inner ear of Ush1c c.216G>A mice using a synthetic adeno-associated viral vector, Anc80L65, shown to transduce 80-90% of sensory hair cells. We demonstrate recovery of gene and protein expression, restoration of sensory cell function, rescue of complex auditory function and recovery of hearing and balance behavior to near wild-type levels. The data represent unprecedented recovery of inner ear function and suggest that biological therapies to treat deafness may be suitable for translation to humans with genetic inner ear disorders.
Mechanotransducer channels at the tips of sensory stereocilia of inner ear hair cells are gated by the tension of 'tip links' interconnecting stereocilia. To ensure maximal sensitivity, tip links are tensioned at rest, resulting in a continuous influx of Ca into the cell. Here, we show that this constitutive Ca influx, usually considered as potentially deleterious for hair cells, is in fact essential for stereocilia stability. In the auditory hair cells of young postnatal mice and rats, a reduction in mechanotransducer current, via pharmacological channel blockers or disruption of tip links, leads to stereocilia shape changes and shortening. These effects occur only in stereocilia that harbor mechanotransducer channels, recover upon blocker washout or tip link regeneration and can be replicated by manipulations of extracellular Ca or intracellular Ca buffering. Thus, our data provide the first experimental evidence for the dynamic control of stereocilia morphology by the mechanotransduction current.
Adeno-associated virus (AAV) is a safe and effective vector for gene therapy for retinal disorders. Gene therapy for hearing disorders is not as advanced, in part because gene delivery to sensory hair cells of the inner ear is inefficient. Although AAV transduces the inner hair cells of the mouse cochlea, outer hair cells remain refractory to transduction. Here, we demonstrate that a vector, exosome-associated AAV (exo-AAV), is a potent carrier of transgenes to all inner ear hair cells. Exo-AAV1-GFP is more efficient than conventional AAV1-GFP, both in mouse cochlear explants in vitro and with direct cochlear injection in vivo. Exo-AAV shows no toxicity in vivo, as assayed by tests of auditory and vestibular function. Finally, exo-AAV1 gene therapy partially rescues hearing in a mouse model of hereditary deafness (lipoma HMGIC fusion partner-like 5/tetraspan membrane protein of hair cell stereocilia [Lhfpl5/Tmhs]). Exo-AAV is a powerful gene delivery system for hair cell research and may be useful for gene therapy for deafness.
Members of the TRP superfamily of ion channels mediate mechanosensation in some organisms, and have been suggested as candidates for the mechanotransduction channel in vertebrate hair cells. Some TRP channels can be ruled out based on lack of an inner ear phenotype in knockout animals or pore properties not similar to the hair-cell channel. Such studies have excluded Trpv4, Trpa1, Trpml3, Trpm1, Trpm3, Trpc1, Trpc3, Trpc5, and Trpc6. However, others remain reasonable candidates. We used data from an RNA-seq analysis of gene expression in hair cells as well as data on TRP channel conductance to narrow the candidate group. We then characterized mice lacking functional Trpm2, Pkd2, Pkd2l1, Pkd2l2 and Pkd1l3, using scanning electron microscopy, auditory brainstem response, permeant dye accumulation, and single-cell electrophysiology. In all of these TRP-deficient mice, and in double and triple knockouts, mechanotransduction persisted. Together with published studies, these results argue against the participation of any of the 33 mouse TRP channels in hair cell transduction.
Primary cilia are solitary, generally non-motile, hair-like protrusions that extend from the surface of cells between cell divisions. Their antenna-like structure leads naturally to the assumption that they sense the surrounding environment, the most common hypothesis being sensation of mechanical force through calcium-permeable ion channels within the cilium. This Ca(2+)-responsive mechanosensor hypothesis for primary cilia has been invoked to explain a large range of biological responses, from control of left-right axis determination in embryonic development to adult progression of polycystic kidney disease and some cancers. Here we report the complete lack of mechanically induced calcium increases in primary cilia, in tissues upon which this hypothesis has been based. We developed a transgenic mouse, Arl13b-mCherry-GECO1.2, expressing a ratiometric genetically encoded calcium indicator in all primary cilia. We then measured responses to flow in primary cilia of cultured kidney epithelial cells, kidney thick ascending tubules, crown cells of the embryonic node, kinocilia of inner ear hair cells, and several cell lines. Cilia-specific Ca(2+) influxes were not observed in physiological or even highly supraphysiological levels of fluid flow. We conclude that mechanosensation, if it originates in primary cilia, is not via calcium signalling.
The transmembrane recognition complex (TRC40) pathway mediates the insertion of tail-anchored (TA) proteins into membranes. Here, we demonstrate that otoferlin, a TA protein essential for hair cell exocytosis, is inserted into the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) via the TRC40 pathway. We mutated the TRC40 receptor tryptophan-rich basic protein (Wrb) in hair cells of zebrafish and mice and studied the impact of defective TA protein insertion. Wrb disruption reduced otoferlin levels in hair cells and impaired hearing, which could be restored in zebrafish by transgenic Wrb rescue and otoferlin overexpression. Wrb-deficient mouse inner hair cells (IHCs) displayed normal numbers of afferent synapses, Ca channels, and membrane-proximal vesicles, but contained fewer ribbon-associated vesicles. Patch-clamp of IHCs revealed impaired synaptic vesicle replenishment. In vivo recordings from postsynaptic spiral ganglion neurons showed a use-dependent reduction in sound-evoked spiking, corroborating the notion of impaired IHC vesicle replenishment. A human mutation affecting the transmembrane domain of otoferlin impaired its ER targeting and caused an auditory synaptopathy. We conclude that the TRC40 pathway is critical for hearing and propose that otoferlin is an essential substrate of this pathway in hair cells.
The precise assembly of inner ear hair cell stereocilia into rows of increasing height is critical for mechanotransduction and the sense of hearing. Yet, how the lengths of actin-based stereocilia are regulated remains poorly understood. Mutations of the molecular motor myosin 15 stunt stereocilia growth and cause deafness. We found that hair cells express two isoforms of myosin 15 that differ by inclusion of an 133-kDa N-terminal domain, and that these isoforms can selectively traffic to different stereocilia rows. Using an isoform-specific knockout mouse, we show that hair cells expressing only the small isoform remarkably develop normal stereocilia bundles. However, a critical subset of stereocilia with active mechanotransducer channels subsequently retracts. The larger isoform with the 133-kDa N-terminal domain traffics to these specialized stereocilia and prevents disassembly of their actin core. Our results show that myosin 15 isoforms can navigate between functionally distinct classes of stereocilia, and are independently required to assemble and then maintain the intricate hair bundle architecture.
Recent papers suggest that TMC1 and TMC2 constitute the ion channels mediating hearing and balance. Kurima et al. (2015) now show these proteins are expressed in the right place and at the right time, bringing us closer to definitive identification.
Hair cells of the inner ear are mechanoreceptors for hearing and balance, and proteins highly enriched in hair cells may have specific roles in the development and maintenance of the mechanotransduction apparatus. We identified XIRP2/mXinβ as an enriched protein likely to be essential for hair cells. We found that different isoforms of this protein are expressed and differentially located: short splice forms (also called XEPLIN) are targeted more to stereocilia, whereas two long isoforms containing a XIN-repeat domain are in both stereocilia and cuticular plates. Mice lacking the Xirp2 gene developed normal stereocilia bundles, but these degenerated with time: stereocilia were lost and long membranous protrusions emanated from the nearby apical surfaces. At an ultrastructural level, the paracrystalline actin filaments became disorganized. XIRP2 is apparently involved in the maintenance of actin structures in stereocilia and cuticular plates of hair cells, and perhaps in other organs where it is expressed.
Sound detection by inner ear hair cells requires tip links that interconnect mechanosensory stereocilia and convey force to yet unidentified transduction channels. Current models postulate a static composition of the tip link, with protocadherin 15 (PCDH15) at the lower and cadherin 23 (CDH23) at the upper end of the link. In terminally differentiated mammalian auditory hair cells, tip links are subjected to sound-induced forces throughout an organism's life. Although hair cells can regenerate disrupted tip links and restore hearing, the molecular details of this process are unknown. We developed a novel implementation of backscatter electron scanning microscopy to visualize simultaneously immuno-gold particles and stereocilia links, both of only a few nanometers in diameter. We show that functional, mechanotransduction-mediating tip links have at least two molecular compositions, containing either PCDH15/CDH23 or PCDH15/PCDH15. During regeneration, shorter tip links containing nearly equal amounts of PCDH15 at both ends appear first. Whole-cell patch-clamp recordings demonstrate that these transient PCDH15/PCDH15 links mediate mechanotransduction currents of normal amplitude but abnormal Ca(2+)-dependent decay (adaptation). The mature PCDH15/CDH23 tip link composition is re-established later, concomitant with complete recovery of adaptation. Thus, our findings provide a molecular mechanism for regeneration and maintenance of mechanosensory function in postmitotic auditory hair cells and could help identify elusive components of the mechanotransduction machinery.
Sensorineural hearing loss is genetically heterogeneous. Here, we report that mutations in CIB2, which encodes a calcium- and integrin-binding protein, are associated with nonsyndromic deafness (DFNB48) and Usher syndrome type 1J (USH1J). One mutation in CIB2 is a prevalent cause of deafness DFNB48 in Pakistan; other CIB2 mutations contribute to deafness elsewhere in the world. In mice, CIB2 is localized to the mechanosensory stereocilia of inner ear hair cells and to retinal photoreceptor and pigmented epithelium cells. Consistent with molecular modeling predictions of calcium binding, CIB2 significantly decreased the ATP-induced calcium responses in heterologous cells, whereas mutations in deafness DFNB48 altered CIB2 effects on calcium responses. Furthermore, in zebrafish and Drosophila melanogaster, CIB2 is essential for the function and proper development of hair cells and retinal photoreceptor cells. We also show that CIB2 is a new member of the vertebrate Usher interactome.
Aminoglycoside ototoxicity involves the accumulation of antibiotic molecules in the inner ear hair cells and the subsequent degeneration of these cells. The exact route of entry of aminoglycosides into the hair cells in vivo is still unknown. Similar to other small organic cations, aminoglycosides could be brought into the cell by endocytosis or permeate through large non-selective cation channels, such as mechanotransduction channels or ATP-gated P2X channels. Here, we show that the aminoglycoside antibiotic gentamicin can enter mouse outer hair cells (OHCs) via TRPA1, non-selective cation channels activated by certain pungent compounds and by endogenous products of lipid peroxidation. Using conventional and perforated whole-cell patch clamp recordings, we found that application of TRPA1 agonists initiates inward current responses in wild-type OHCs, but not in OHCs of homozygous Trpa1 knockout mice. Similar responses consistent with the activation of non-selective cation channels were observed in heterologous cells transfected with mouse Trpa1. Upon brief activation with TRPA1 agonists, Trpa1-transfected cells become loaded with fluorescent gentamicin-Texas Red conjugate (GTTR). This uptake was not observed in mock-transfected or non-transfected cells. In mouse organ of Corti explants, TRPA1 activation resulted in the rapid entry of GTTR and another small cationic dye, FM1-43, in OHCs and some supporting cells, even when hair cell mechanotransduction was disrupted by pre-incubation in calcium-free solution. This TRPA1-mediated entry of GTTR and FM1-43 into OHCs was observed in wild-type but not in Trpa1 knockout mice and was not blocked by PPADS, a non-selective blocker of P2X channels. Notably, TRPA1 channels in mouse OHCs were activated by 4-hydroxynonenal, an endogenous molecule that is known to be generated during episodes of oxidative stress and accumulate in the cochlea after noise exposure. We concluded that TRPA1 channels may provide a novel pathway for the entry of aminoglycosides into OHCs.