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PLoS One. 2012;7(12):e51574. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0051574. Epub 2012 Dec 11.

Depletion of resident macrophages does not alter sensory regeneration in the avian cochlea.

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Department of Otolaryngology, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, Missouri, United States of America.


Macrophages are the primary effector cells of the innate immune system and are also activated in response to tissue injury. The avian cochlea contains a population of resident macrophages, but the precise function of those cells is not known. The present study characterized the behavior of cochlear macrophages after aminoglycoside ototoxicity and also examined the possible role of macrophages in sensory regeneration. We found that the undamaged chick cochlea contains a large resting population of macrophages that reside in the hyaline cell region, immediately outside the abneural (inferior) border of the sensory epithelium. Following ototoxic injury, macrophages appear to migrate out of the hyaline cell region and towards the basilar membrane, congregating immediately below the lesioned sensory epithelium. In order to determine whether recruited macrophages contribute to the regeneration of sensory receptors, we quantified supporting cell proliferation and hair cell recovery after the elimination of most resident macrophages via application of liposomally-encapsulated clodronate. Examination of macrophage-depleted specimens at two days following ototoxic injury revealed no deficits in hair cell clearance, when compared to normal controls. In addition, we found that elimination of macrophages did not affect either regenerative proliferation of supporting cells or the production of replacement hair cells. However, we did find that macrophage-depleted cochleae contained reduced numbers of proliferative mesothelial cells below the basilar membrane. Our data suggest that macrophages are not required for normal debris clearance and regeneration, but that they may play a role in the maintenance of the basilar membrane.

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