Supporting cells eliminate dying sensory hair cells to maintain epithelial integrity in the avian inner ear

Jonathan E. Bird, Nicolas Daudet, Mark E. Warchol, Jonathan E. Gale

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

66 Scopus citations


Epithelial homeostasis is essential for sensory transduction in the auditory and vestibular organs of the inner ear, buthowit is maintained during trauma is poorly understood. To examine potential repair mechanisms, we expressed β-actin-enhanced green fluorescent protein (EGFP) in the chick inner ear and used live-cell imaging to study how sensory epithelia responded during aminoglycoside-induced hair cell trauma. We found that glial-like supporting cells used two independent mechanisms to rapidly eliminate dying hair cells. Supporting cells assembled an actin cable at the luminal surface that extended around the pericuticular junction and constricted to excise the stereocilia bundle and cuticular plate from the hair cell soma. Hair bundle excision could occur within 3 min of actin-cable formation. After bundle excision, typically with a delay of up to 2-3 h, supporting cells engulfed and phagocytosed the remaining bundle-less hair cell. Dual-channel recordings with β-actin-EGFP and vital dyes revealed phagocytosis was concurrent with loss of hair cell integrity. We conclude that supporting cells repaired the epithelial barrier before hair cell plasmalemmal integrity was lost and that supporting cell activity was closely linked to hair cell death. Treatment with the Rho-kinase inhibitor Y-27632 did not prevent bundle excision but prolonged phagocytic engulfment and resulted in hair cell corpses accumulating within the epithelium. Our data show that supporting cells not only maintain epithelial integrity during trauma but suggest they may also be an integral part of the hair cell death process itself.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)12545-12556
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number37
StatePublished - Sep 15 2010


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