Riley Lab
Department of Biology
Texas A&M University

Development of the inner ear in zebrafish.

The sensory apparatus of the inner ear is highly conserved in all vertebrates. Its developmental complexity offers a rich variety of exciting topics to explore:

Ectodermal patterning: We can trace the origins of the inner ear to early gastrulation when axial signals establish broad regions of the ectoderm with different cell fate potentials.  Subsequent local interactions gradually define the precise region from which the inner ear arises.

Morphogenesis: The inner ear is sculpted by a combination of directed cell migration, cell recruitment, changes in cell shape and cell adhesion, epithelial folding, and epithelial-mesenchymal transitions.

Regulation of cell fate: The inner ear comprises numerous cell types that must form in a precise spatial arrangement.

Neural patterning: Neurons that transmit impulses from the inner ear to the brain show complex developmental regulation, from their initial specification and proliferation to migration and axonal pathfinding.

Regeneration: In contrast to the human inner ear, sensory structures in the zebrafish inner ear readily regenerate to restore hearing.  Discovering how this happens could have clinical significance for restoring hearing in humans.

The Model System: The zebrafish system boasts an impressive toolkit for conducting forward and reverse genetics, gene misexpression, transgenics, and numerous cell biological approaches.  Although zebrafish is a relatively young model system, there are now hundreds of zebrafish labs worldwide.  The international zebrafish community is noted for its collegiality and cooperation.  For more information, visit the Zebrafish Information Network (ZFIN).