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Exp Cell Res. 2007 Jan 15;313(2):232-43. Epub 2006 Oct 24.

Auditory hair cell explant co-cultures promote the differentiation of stem cells into bipolar neurons.

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  • 1Department of Otolaryngology, University of Melbourne, East Melbourne, Australia.


Auditory neurons, the target neurons of the cochlear implant, degenerate following a sensorineural hearing loss. The goal of this research is to direct the differentiation of embryonic stem cells (SCs) into bipolar auditory neurons that can be used to replace degenerating neurons in the deafened mammalian cochlea. Successful replacement of auditory neurons is likely to result in improved clinical outcomes for cochlear implant recipients. We examined two post-natal auditory co-culture models with and without neurotrophic support, for their potential to direct the differentiation of mouse embryonic SCs into characteristic, bipolar, auditory neurons. The differentiation of SCs into neuron-like cells was facilitated by co-culture with auditory neurons or hair cell explants, isolated from post-natal day five rats. The most successful combination was the co-culture of hair cell explants with whole embryoid bodies, which resulted in significantly greater numbers of neurofilament-positive, neuron-like cells. While further characterization of these differentiated cells will be essential before transplantation studies commence, these data illustrate the effectiveness of post-natal hair cell explant co-culture, at providing valuable molecular cues for directed differentiation of SCs towards an auditory neuron lineage.

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