During the development of periphery auditory circuitry, spiral ganglion neurons (SGNs) form a spatially precise pattern of innervation of cochlear hair cells (HCs), which is an essential structural foundation for central auditory processing. However, molecular mechanisms underlying the developmental formation of this precise innervation pattern remain not well understood. Here, we specifically examined the involvement of Eph family members in cochlear development. By performing RNA-sequencing for different types of cochlear cell, in situ hybridization, and immunohistochemistry, we found that EphA7 was strongly expressed in a large subset of SGNs. In EphA7 deletion mice, there was a reduction in the number of inner radial bundles originating from SGNs and projecting to HCs as well as in the number of ribbon synapses on inner hair cells (IHCs), as compared with wild-type or heterozygous mutant mice, attributable to fewer type I afferent fibers. The overall activity of the auditory nerve in EphA7 deletion mice was also reduced, although there was no significant change in the hearing intensity threshold. In vitro analysis further suggested that the reduced innervation of HCs by SGNs could be attributed to a role of EphA7 in regulating outgrowth of SGN neurites as knocking down EphA7 in SGNs resulted in diminished SGN fibers. In addition, suppressing the activity of ERK1/2, a potential downstream target of EphA7 signaling, either with specific inhibitors in cultured explants or by knocking out Prkg1, also resulted in reduced SGN fibers. Together, our results suggest that EphA7 plays an important role in the developmental formation of cochlear innervation pattern through controlling SGN fiber ontogeny. Such regulation may contribute to the salience level of auditory signals presented to the central auditory system.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
- Developmental Neuroscience