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PLoS One. 2011;6(8):e23861. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0023861. Epub 2011 Aug 31.

Variations in shape-sensitive restriction points mirror differences in the regeneration capacities of avian and mammalian ears.

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  • 1Department of Neuroscience, University of Virginia School of Medicine, Charlottesville, Virginia, United States of America.


When inner ear hair cells die, humans and other mammals experience permanent hearing and balance deficits, but non-mammalian vertebrates quickly recover these senses after epithelial supporting cells give rise to replacement hair cells. A postnatal decline in cellular plasticity appears to limit regeneration in mammalian balance organs, where declining proliferation responses are correlated with decreased spreading of supporting cells on artificial and native substrates. By culturing balance epithelia on substrates that differed in flexibility, we assessed spreading effects independent of age, showing a strong correlation between shape change and supporting cell proliferation. Then we made excision wounds in utricles cultured from young and old chickens and mice and compared quantified levels of spreading and proliferation. In utricles from young mice, and both young and old chickens, wounds re-epithelialized in <24 hours, while those in utricles from mature mice took three times longer. More cells changed shape in the fastest healing wounds, which accounted for some differences in the levels of proliferation, but inter-species and age-related differences in shape-sensitive restriction points, i.e., the cellular thresholds for shape changes that promote S-phase, were evident and may be particularly influential in the responses to hair cell losses in vivo.

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