Hair cells in the auditory organ of the vertebrate inner ear are the sensory receptors that convert acoustic stimuli into electrical signals that are conveyed along the auditory nerve to the brainstem. Hair cells are highly susceptible to ototoxic drugs, infection, and acoustic trauma, which can cause cellular degeneration. In mammals, hair cells that are lost after damage are not replaced, leading to permanent hearing impairments. By contrast, supporting cells in birds and other non-mammalian vertebrates regenerate hair cells after damage, which restores hearing function. The cellular mechanisms that regulate hair cell regeneration are not well understood. We investigated the role of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) during regeneration of auditory hair cells in chickens after ototoxic injury. Using RNA-Seq, immunolabeling, and in situ hybridization, we found that VEGFA, VEGFC, VEGFR1, VEGFR2, and VEGFR3 were expressed in the auditory epithelium, with VEGFA expressed in hair cells and VEGFR1 and VEGFR2 expressed in supporting cells. Using organotypic cultures of the chicken cochlear duct, we found that blocking VEGF receptor activity during hair cell injury reduced supporting cell proliferation as well as the numbers of regenerated hair cells. By contrast, addition of recombinant human VEGFA to organ cultures caused an increase in both supporting cell division and hair cell regeneration. VEGF's effects on supporting cells were preserved in isolated supporting cell cultures, indicating that VEGF can act directly upon supporting cells. These observations demonstrate a heretofore uncharacterized function for VEGF signaling as a critical positive regulator of hair cell regeneration in the avian inner ear.
- Basilar papilla
- Hair cell
- Supporting cell
- Vascular endothelial growth factor