The Regenerators

A molecular signature makes it possible to trace the details of hair cell replacement in the mammalian inner ear.

Amanda B. Keener
Sep 1, 2015


TRANSFORMERS: Upon damage to hair cells (blue) in a mouse utricle, supporting cells (green) divide and differentiate into hair-cell replacements (red).TIAN WANGThe paper
T. Wang et al., “Lgr5+ cells regenerate hair cells via proliferation and direct transdifferentiation in damaged neonatal mouse utricle,” Nat Commun, 6:6613, 2015.

In mammals, hair cells of the utricle (the inner ear organ that senses gravity and maintains balance) can regenerate to some extent after damage, unlike hair cells in the cochlea. Despite evidence in neonatal mice that hair cells’ neighbors, called supporting cells, can differentiate into hair cells, tracking the origins of new hair cells could not be done until Alan Cheng of Stanford University and his team developed a genetic marker based on a gene, Lgr5, that responds to hair cell damage.

Damage control
The researchers found that Lgr5 expression in supporting...