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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2013 Aug 20;110(34):13851-6. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1219952110. Epub 2013 Aug 5.

Generation of hair cells in neonatal mice by β-catenin overexpression in Lgr5-positive cochlear progenitors.

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


Mammalian hair cells do not regenerate, and their loss is a major cause of deafness. We recently identified leucine-rich repeat containing, G-protein-coupled receptor 5 (Lgr5)-expressing cochlear supporting cells with the capacity for self-renewal and hair cell differentiation in vitro. We found that these cells, a subset of cochlear supporting cells, were responsive to Wnt signaling. Here we asked whether these Lgr5-positive cells, despite their lack of contribution to hair cell replacement after degenerative loss, could be driven by forced expression of β-catenin to act as hair cell progenitors in vivo. We showed that forced stabilization of β-catenin in supporting cells in neonatal animals resulted in proliferation of supporting cells and generation of hair cells. Although β-catenin expression was increased by genetic means in all supporting cells, entry to the cell cycle and differentiation to hair cells of the normally postmitotic cells was restricted to the Lgr5-positive population. Our finding suggests that Wnt/β-catenin can drive Lgr5-positive cells to act as hair cell progenitors, even after their exit from the cell cycle and apparent establishment of cell fate.

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