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Hear Res. 2007 May;227(1-2):48-52. Epub 2007 Jan 20.

The potential role of endogenous stem cells in regeneration of the inner ear.

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Department of Otology and Laryngology, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA 02115, USA.


Stem cells in various mammalian organs retain the capacity to renew themselves and may be able to restore damaged tissue. Their existence has been proven by genetic tracer studies that demonstrate their differentiation into multiple tissue types and by their ability to self-renew through proliferation. Stem cells from the adult nervous system proliferate to form clonal floating colonies called spheres in vitro, and recent studies have demonstrated sphere formation by cells in the cochlea in addition to the vestibular system and the auditory ganglia, indicating that these tissues contain cells with stem cell properties. The presence of stem cells in the inner ear raises the hope of regeneration of mammalian inner ear cells but is difficult to correlate with the lack of spontaneous regeneration seen in the inner ear after tissue damage. Loss of stem cells postnatally in the cochlea may correlate with the loss of regenerative capacity and may limit our ability to stimulate regeneration. Retention of sphere forming ability in adult vestibular tissues suggests that the limited capacity for repair may be attributed to the continued presence of progenitor cells. Future strategies for regeneration must consider the distribution of endogenous stem cells in the inner ear and whether the tissue retains cells with the capacity for regeneration.

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