Epigenetic influences on sensory regeneration: histone deacetylases regulate supporting cell proliferation in the avian utricle

Eric L. Slattery, Judith D. Speck, Mark E. Warchol

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


The sensory hair cells of the cochlea and vestibular organs are essential for normal hearing and balance function. The mammalian ear possesses a very limited ability to regenerate hair cells and their loss can lead to permanent sensory impairment. In contrast, hair cells in the avian ear are quickly regenerated after acoustic trauma or ototoxic injury. The very different regenerative abilities of the avian vs. mammalian ear can be attributed to differences in injury-evoked expression of genes that either promote or inhibit the production of new hair cells. Gene expression is regulated both by the binding of cis-regulatory molecules to promoter regions as well as through structural modifications of chromatin (e.g., methylation and acetylation). This study examined effects of histone deacetylases (HDACs), whose main function is to modify histone acetylation, on the regulation of regenerative proliferation in the chick utricle. Cultures of regenerating utricles and dissociated cells from the utricular sensory epithelia were treated with the HDAC inhibitors valproic acid, trichostatin A, sodium butyrate, and MS-275. All of these molecules prevent the enzymatic removal of acetyl groups from histones, thus maintaining nuclear chromatin in a "relaxed" (open) configuration. Treatment with all inhibitors resulted in comparable decreases in supporting cell proliferation. We also observed that treatment with the HDAC1-, 2-, and 3-specific inhibitor MS-275 was sufficient to reduce proliferation and that two class I HDACs-HDAC1 and HDAC2-were expressed in the sensory epithelium of the utricle. These results suggest that inhibition of specific type I HDACs is sufficient to prevent cell cycle entry in supporting cells. Notably, treatment with HDAC inhibitors did not affect the differentiation of replacement hair cells. We conclude that histone deacetylation is a positive regulator of regenerative proliferation but is not critical for avian hair cell differentiation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)341-353
Number of pages13
JournalJARO - Journal of the Association for Research in Otolaryngology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2009


  • HDAC
  • Histone acetylation
  • Inner ear
  • Ototoxicity
  • Valproic acid
  • Vestibular


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