Primary auditory neurons (PANs) play a critical role in hearing by transmitting sound information from the inner ear to the brain. Their progressive degeneration is associated with excessive noise, disease and aging. The loss of PANs leads to permanent hearing impairment since they are incapable of regenerating. Spiral ganglion non-neuronal cells (SGNNCs), comprised mainly of glia, are resident within the modiolus and continue to survive after PAN loss. These attributes make SGNNCs an excellent target for replacing damaged PANs through cellular reprogramming. We used the neurogenic pioneer transcription factor Ascl1 and the auditory neuron differentiation factor NeuroD1 to reprogram SGNNCs into induced neurons (iNs). The overexpression of both Ascl1 and NeuroD1 in vitro generated iNs at high efficiency. Transcriptome analyses revealed that iNs displayed a transcriptome profile resembling that of endogenous PANs, including expression of several key markers of neuronal identity: Tubb3, Map2, Prph, Snap25, and Prox1. Pathway analyses indicated that essential pathways in neuronal growth and maturation were activated in cells upon neuronal induction. Furthermore, iNs extended projections toward cochlear hair cells and cochlear nucleus neurons when cultured with each respective tissue. Taken together, our study demonstrates that PAN-like neurons can be generated from endogenous SGNNCs. This work suggests that gene therapy can be a viable strategy to treat sensorineural hearing loss caused by degeneration of PANs.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Developmental Biology
- Cell Biology