The inner ear originates from an embryonic ectodermal placode and rapidly develops into a three-dimensional structure (the otocyst) through complex molecular and cellular interactions. Many genes and their products are involved in inner ear induction, organogenesis, and cell differentiation. Retinoic acid (RA) is an endogenous signaling molecule that may play a role during different phases of inner ear development, as shown from pathological observations. To gain insight into the function of RA during inner ear development, we have investigated the spatio-temporal expression patterns of major components of RA signaling pathway, including cellular retinoic acid binding proteins (CRABPs), cellular retinoid binding proteins (CRBPs), retinaldehyde dehydrogenases (RALDHs), catabolic enzymes (CYP26s), and nuclear receptors (RARs). Although the CrbpI, CrabpI, and -II genes are specifically expressed in the inner ear throughout development, loss-of-function studies have revealed that these proteins are dispensable for inner development and function. Several Raldh and Cyp26 gene transcripts are expressed at embryological day (E) 9.0-9.5 in the otocyst and show mainly complementary distributions in the otic epithelium and mesenchyme during following stages. From Western blot, RT-PCR, and in situ hybridization analysis, there is a low expression of Raldhs in the early otocyst at E9, while Cyp26s are strongly expressed. During the following days, there is an up-regulation of Raldhs and a down-regulation for Cyp26s. Specific RA receptor (Rar and Rxr) genes are expressed in the otocyst and during further development of the inner ear. At the otocyst stage, most of the components of the retinoid pathway are present, suggesting that the embryonic inner ear might act as an autocrine system, which is able to synthesize and metabolize RA necessary for its development. We propose a model in which two RA-dependent pathways may control inner ear ontogenesis: one indirect with RA from somitic mesoderm acting to regulate gene expression within the hindbrain neuroepithelium, and another with RA acting directly on the otocyst. Current evidence suggests that RA may regulate several genes involved in mesenchyme-epithelial interactions, thereby controlling inner ear morphogenesis. Our investigations suggest that RA signaling is a critical component not only of embryonic development, but also of postnatal maintenance of the inner ear.
- Cellular retinoic acid binding proteins
- Cellular retinoid binding proteins
- Retinaldehyde dehydrogenases
- Retinoic acid receptors
ASJC Scopus subject areas