How do the specialized cells of the inner ear differentiate, and how do they form the complex mosaic patterns of the inner ear?
We are studying the molecular basis for differentiation of the hair cells and supporting cells within the embryonic cochlea, the mammalian inner ear. By using modern tools of genomics and epigenetics, we are characterizing the global changes in gene expression and regulation during sensory development. We are particularly interested in the regulation of Atoh1, a transcription factor necessary for hair cell differentiation. We are studying the epigenetic mechanisms of Atoh1 regulation in the context of Notch-dependent silencing, and its requirement for the formation of the complex mosaic of hair cells and supporting cells in the organ of Corti and the vestibular sensory epithelia.